The receptor tyrosine kinase Met and the protein tyrosine phosphatase PTPN2 in breast cancer

Abstract: Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer death. It is a heterogeneous disease and is subdivided into different subtypes, all with different treatment responses and survival outcomes. Luminal breast cancers are characterised by the expression of oestrogen receptor and generally have a good prognosis. More aggressive tumours are marked by the presence of growth stimulating receptor tyrosine kinase HER2 (HER2-like breast cancer) or the absence of oestrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and HER2 (triple-negative breast cancer,TNBC). The latter is the most aggressive form and is difficult to treat due to lack of treatment targets.This thesis aimed to explore possible prognostic and predictive biomarkers in different subtypes and study their role in breast cancer. To this aid, breast cancer tumours of pre- and post-menopausal patients enrolled in two cohorts were analysed for gene copy numbers and expression of proteins involved in cell proliferation. Gene copy numbers of receptor tyrosine kinases MET and EGFR, Met’s ligand HGF, and protein tyrosine phosphatase PTPN2 were determined by droplet digital PCR or quantitative PCR in both cohorts. Met, phosphorylated Met (pMet), HGF, and PTPN2 protein expression levels were analysed with immunohistochemical staining in the pre-menopausal cohort. Moreover,the role of the aforementioned proteins was investigated in breast cancer cell lines. Amplification of MET, HGF, and EGFR in breast tissues was found to be low (5-8%). These three genes, all located on chromosome 7, were found to be strongly correlated with eachother and to be associated with shortened distant recurrence-free survival. High protein expression of Met, pMet, and HGF was found in 33%, 53%, and 49% of the breast tumours. MET and EGFR were found to be more often amplified in TNBC disease, correlating with worse survival. Moreover, stromal expression of HGF was associated with shorter survival in TNBC. EGF stimulation in TNBC cell line MDA-MB-468 led to inhibited cell proliferation and migration. Partial knockdown of EGFR caused TNBC cells to proliferate and migrate more upon EGF treatment, mirroring EGFR inhibitor resistance. Knockdown of Met had in part the opposite effects, indicating that Met inhibitors might be useful in the treatment of TNBC. The increase in proliferation and migration upon EGFR depletion could be counteracted with simultaneous knockdown of EGFR and Met, indicating that dual inhibition of these proteins might be a future treatment option in TNBC.Copy loss of PTPN2 was reported in 15% of the cases in both pre- and post-menopausal cohorts. Low cytoplasmic PTPN2 protein expression was found in half of the cases. Loss of PTPN2 gene or protein was associated with a shorter distant recurrence-free survival in Luminal A and HER2-positive tumours, not in TNBC, suggesting a subtype-related prognostic value of PTPN2. Subtype relevance of PTPN2 was further implied by in vitro analyses. Whereas PTPN2 knockdown had no observed effect on TNBC cell lines, knockdown in the Luminal A cell line MCF7 inhibited Met phosphorylation and promoted phosphorylation of Akt, a key regulator of cellular proliferation and survival. The cell growth and survival regulating RAS/MAPK pathway remained unaffected. Knockdown in the HER2-positive cell line SKBR3 led to increased Met phosphorylation and decreased RAS/MAPK-related Erk phosphorylation as well as EGF-mediated transcription factor STAT3 phosphorylation. These results indicate that the role of PTPN2 in breast cancer is subtype-related and needs to be further investigated for future treatment options.

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