Mechanisms for oncogenic activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor.
The Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) is a membrane spanning glycoprotein, which frequently has been implicated in various cancer types. The mechanisms by which EGFR becomes oncogenic are numerous and are often specific for each cancer type. In some tumors, EGFR is activated by autocrine/paracrine growth factor loops, whereas in others activating mutations promote EGFR signaling. Overexpression and/or amplification of the EGFR gene are prevalent in many cancer types leading to aberrant EGFR signaling. In addition, failure to attenuate receptor signaling by receptor downregulation can also lead to cellular transformation. Heterodimerization of EGFR with ErbB2 inhibits downregulation of EGFR and thereby prolongs growth factor signaling. This also indicates that cross-talk between EGFR and heterologous receptor systems serves as another mechanism for oncogenic activation of EGFR. Because of its role in tumor promotion, the EGFR has been intensely studied as a therapeutic target. There are currently two major mechanisms by which the EGFR is targeted: antibodies binding to the extracellular domain of EGFR and small-molecule tyrosine-kinase inhibitors. However, tumorigenesis is a multi-step process involving several mutations, which might explain why EGFR therapeutics has only been partially successful. This highlights the importance of pinpointing the mechanisms by which EGFR becomes oncogenic in a particular cancer. In this review, each of the above mentioned mechanisms will be discussed, as a detailed molecular and genetic understanding of how EGFR contributes to the malignant phenotype might offer new promise for the design, development and clinical evaluation of future tumor-specific anticancer approaches.