Niche-localized tumor cells are protected from HER2-targeted therapy via upregulation of an anti-apoptotic program in vivo

Jason J. Zoeller, Roderick T. Bronson, Laura M. Selfors, Gordon B. Mills, Joan S. Brugge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Several lines of evidence suggest that components of the tumor microenvironment, specifically basement membrane and extracellular matrix proteins, influence drug sensitivities. We previously reported differential drug sensitivity of tumor cells localized adjacent to laminin-rich extracellular matrix in three-dimensional tumor spheroid cultures. To evaluate whether differential intratumor responses to targeted therapy occur in vivo, we examined the sensitivity of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive tumors to lapatinib using a previously described ductal carcinoma in situ-like model characterized by tumor cell confinement within ductal structures surrounded by an organized basement membrane. Here we show that tumor cells localized to a 'niche' in the outer layer of the intraductal tumors adjacent to myoepithelial cells and basement membrane are resistant to lapatinib. We found that the pro-survival protein BCL2 is selectively induced in the niche-protected tumor cells following lapatinib treatment, and combined inhibition of HER2 and BCL-2/XL enhanced targeting of these residual tumor cells. Elimination of the niche-protected tumor cells was achieved with the HER2 antibody-drug conjugate T-DM1, which delivers a chemotherapeutic payload. Thus, these studies provide evidence that subpopulations of tumor cells within specific microenvironmental niches can adapt to inhibition of critical oncogenic pathways, and furthermore reveal effective strategies to eliminate these resistant subpopulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number18
Journalnpj Breast Cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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