J Cancer 2020; 11(15):4464-4473. doi:10.7150/jca.44234

Research Paper

EGFR targeting enhances the efficiency of chemotherapy through inhibiting IRE1α-XBP1s pathway in colorectal cancer cells

Miaomiao Huo*, Yahui Zhao*, Xianghe Liu, Yang Gao, Die Zhang, Mengjiao Chang, Mei Liu, Ningzhi Xu, Hongxia Zhu

State Key Laboratory of Molecular Oncology, National Cancer Center/National Clinical Research Center for Cancer/Cancer Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Beijing 100021, China.
*Miaomiao Huo and Yahui Zhao contributed equally to this work

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Huo M, Zhao Y, Liu X, Gao Y, Zhang D, Chang M, Liu M, Xu N, Zhu H. EGFR targeting enhances the efficiency of chemotherapy through inhibiting IRE1α-XBP1s pathway in colorectal cancer cells. J Cancer 2020; 11(15):4464-4473. doi:10.7150/jca.44234. Available from http://www.jcancer.org/v11p4464.htm

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Targeting EGFR combined with chemotherapy is one of the most valuable therapeutic strategies in colorectal cancer. However, resistance remains a major obstacle to improve efficacy. IRE1α-XBP1s signaling pathway is activated in many malignant tumors, and plays important roles in chemoresistance. Therefore, IRE1α-XBP1s might be a potential target to overcome the chemoresistance in colorectal cancer. In this study, we detected the activation of IRE1α-XBP1s signaling in patient cancer tissues and colorectal cancer cell lines. The phosphorylation level of IRE1α and the spliced XBP1s were aberrantly elevated in colorectal cancer, and IRE1α-XBP1s signaling activation was correlated with high EGFR expression. By overexpression of EGFR protein or activation by EGF treatment, we found that EGFR activation could enhance the phosphorylation of IRE1α and spliced XBP1s expression. On the contrary, inhibition of EGFR decreased the IRE1α-XBP1s signaling. Further, we examined the downstream signaling pathways regulated by EGFR. Inhibition of ERK activity could reverse the EGFR induced IRE1α-XBP1s activation. Co-IP confirmed the physical interaction of ERK and IRE1α. Cell growth and colony formation assay showed that the inhibition of IRE1α activity could suppress EGFR driven colorectal cancer cell proliferation. Furthermore, we found that oxaliplatin could activate IRE1α-XBP1s signaling, and combination with cetuximab partially reversed the activation. Inhibition of EGFR signaling could enhance the efficacy of oxaliplatin in vitro and in vivo. Our results showed that IRE1α RNase activity is aberrantly elevated in colorectal cancer, and EGFR signaling could activate IRE1α/XBP1s possibly through EGFR-MEK-ERK pathway. IRE1α-XBP1s pathway might involve in EGFR driven tumor cell proliferation. Cetuximab could partially recover oxaliplatin-induced IRE1α-XBP1s activation, and therefore enhance the anti-tumor efficacy of oxaliplatin. Our findings declare a new mechanism that targeting EGFR could inhibit chemotherapy-induced IRE1α-XBP1s activation and therefore enhance the efficacy.

Keywords: Colorectal cancer, EGFR, IRE1α-XBP1s pathway