Epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor (EGFR/HER1) is overexpressed in human pancreatic cancers. However, anti-EGFR therapy does not exhibit significant therapeutic activity with oncogenic K-ras mutation. We sought to assess the signaling relationship between EGFR and mutant K-ras, which is commonly detected in pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer cells harboring mutated K-ras were treated with EGF to assess signaling from EGFR to mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway. The role of Ras family of proteins in transducing EGFR signals was assessed using short interfering RNA. Other components of MAPK and PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase) pathways were examined for their roles in EGFR signaling.
First, EGF signaling in pancreatic cancer cells occurs selectively through HER1. Second, knockdown of all Ras isoforms failed to block EGF-mediated phosphorylation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). Inhibition of Raf was observed to partially abrogate ERK phosphorylation, whereas MEK inhibition resulted in complete attenuation of EGF-mediated ERK phosphorylation. Finally, inhibition of phosphoinositide 3-kinase/AKT and CDC42/PAK pathways did not block EGFR signaling.
Our study results demonstrate that EGFR-mediated signaling in mutant K-ras pancreatic cancer cells does not follow canonical MAPK signaling. Our novel findings suggest the existence of alternate signaling pathways to downstream MAPK in the presence of mutant K-ras.