Colorectal cancer and radiation response : The role of EGFR, AKT and cancer stem cell markers

Abstract: The primary treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy, sometimes combined, are also frequently used to diminish recurrence risk. In response to radiation exposure, several cellular signaling cascades are activated to repair DNA breaks, prevent apoptosis and to keep the cells proliferating. Several proteins in the radiation response and cell survival pathways are potential targets to enhance the effects of radiation. The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), which is frequently upregulated in colorectal cancer and exhibits a radiation protective function, is an attractive target for treatment. EGFR is activated by radiation which in turn activates numerous signaling pathways such as the PI3 kinase/AKT cascade, the RAS/RAF/ERK pathway and STAT leading to tumor cell proliferation. EGFR is also believed to interact with proteins in the DNA repair process, such as DNA-PKcs and MRE11. The cytotoxic effect of an affibody molecule (ZEGFR:1907)2, with high affinity to EGFR,  in combination with radiation produced a small, but significant, reduction in survival in a KRAS mutated cell line. However, not in the BRAF mutated cell line. The next step was therefore to target proteins downstream of EGFR such as AKT. There was an interaction between AKT and the DNA repair proteins DNA-PKcs and MRE11 and both AKT1 and AKT2 were involved in the radiation response. The knockout of both AKT isoforms impaired the DNA double strand break rejoining after radiation and suppression of DNA-PKcs increased the radiations sensitivity and decreased the DNA repair further. The AKT isoforms also affected the expression of cancer stem cell markers CD133 and CD44 which are associated with the formation of metastasis as well as radiation and drug resistance. The CD133 expression was associated with AKT1 but not AKT2, whereas the CD44 expression was influenced by the presence of either AKT1 or AKT2. AKT was also involved in cell migration, cell-adhesion and metabolism. Overall, these results illustrate the complexity in response to radiation and drugs in cells with different mutations and the need for combining inhibitors against several targets such as EGFR, AKT, DNA-PKcs, CD133 or CD44.