Recent in vitro studies of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) family have revealed complex signaling interactions involving the production of ligand-mediated heterodimers synergistic for the transformation of cells in vitro. In a series of 70 patients with childhood medulloblastoma, we have used immunohistochemistry and Western blotting analysis to investigate the expression patterns of all four EGFR family members (EGFR, HER2, HER3, and HER4) and heregulin-α, a ligand for the HER3 and HER4 receptors. The majority of cases expressed two or more receptor proteins; coexpression of the HER2 and HER4 receptors occurred in 54%. Expression of the ligand heregulin-α was detected in 31% of tumors. To investigate whether coexpression results in receptor heterodimerization, we have also performed immunoprecipitation analysis of protein extracts from primary tumors, and we demonstrate various patterns of receptor interaction including between HER2 and HER4.

In multivariate 25-year survival analysis with clinicopathological disease features, no individual receptor or heregulin-α achieved significance. In contrast, when considered together in the multivariate model, coexpression of HER2 and HER4 demonstrated independent prognostic significance (P = 0.006). These data suggest the hypothesis that HER2-HER4 receptor heterodimerization is of particular biological significance in this disease, and this report is the first to demonstrate potential clinical significance of EGFR family heterodimerization in human cancer. Finally, we have also analyzed expression of the AP-2 transcription factor implicated in the positive regulation of HER2 and HER3 gene transcription in malignant cells and reveal an association between AP-2 expression and not only HER2 and HER3, but also HER4 levels in medulloblastoma primary tumors.


This work was supported by the United Kingdom Medical Research Council.

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