Prospective neoadjuvant analysis of PET imaging and mechanisms of resistance to Trastuzumab shows role of HIF1 and autophagy.
Koukourakis MI., Giatromanolaki A., Bottini A., Cappelletti MR., Zanotti L., Allevi G., Strina C., Ardine M., Milani M., Brugnoli G., Martinotti M., Ferrero G., Bertoni R., Ferrozzi F., Harris AL., Generali D.
BACKGROUND: Although Trastuzumab has improved survival of HER2+ breast cancer patients, resistance to the agent pre-exists or develops through the course of therapy. Here we show that a specific metabolism and autophagy-related cancer cell phenotype relates to resistance of HER2+ breast cancer to Trastuzumab and chemotherapy. METHODS: Twenty-eight patients with locally advanced primary breast cancer were prospectively scheduled to received one cycle of Trastuzumab followed by a new biopsy on day 21, followed by taxol/Trastuzumab chemotherapy for four cycles before surgery. FDG PET/CT scan was used to monitor tumour response. Tissue samples were immunohistochemically analysed for metabolism and autophagy markers. RESULTS: In pre-Trastuzumab biopsies, the LC3A+/HER2+ cell population was correlated with HIF1α expression (P=0.01), while GLUT1 and LC3B expression were correlated with Ki67 proliferation index (P=0.01 and P=0.01, respectively). FDG PET tumour dimensions before therapy were correlated with LC3B expression (P=0.005). Administration of Trastuzumab significantly reduced clinical and PET-detected tumour dimensions (P<0.01). An inverse association of tumour response with the percentage of cells expressing HIF1α at baseline was documented (P=0.01). Administration of Trastuzumab resulted in a decrease of the proliferation index (P=0.004), GLUT1 (P=0.04) and HER2 (P=0.01) expression. In contrast, the percentage of LC3A+/HER2+ cells was increased (P=0.01). High baseline HIF1α expression was the only parameter associated with poorer pathological response to preoperative chemotherapy (P=0.001). CONCLUSIONS: As the HER2+/LC3A+ phenotype, which often overexpresses HIF1α, is a major subpopulation increasing after therapy with Trastuzumab, LC3A- and HIF1α-targeting therapies should be investigated for the augmentation of anti-HER2 therapy efficacy.