Introduction: Treatment strategies for HER2+ breast cancer (BC) involves first line treatment with the monoclonal antibody trastuzumab, however resistance to treatment can occur. The pan-HER tyrosine kinase inhibitor neratinib is an approved adjuvant treatment for early stage HER2+ BC after one year of treatment with trastuzumab. Recent studies have highlighted the potential benefits of using retinoic acid as an adjuvant treatment for BC. The retinoic acid receptor (RAR) family of nuclear transcription factors consists of RARα, RARβ and RARγ. Interestingly ~30% of HER2+ BC have a co-amplification of the RARA gene, which codes for RARα. We examined the effect of RARα agonists (Fenretinide & AM580) and antagonist (AGN194310) in combination with neratinib in two HER2+ cell lines: SKBR3, has co-amplification of ERBB2 and RARA, and HCC1569 has amplified ERBB2 but are not RARA-amplified. Methods: SKBR3 and HCC1569 cell lines were cultured in RPMI/10% FCS at 370C/5% CO2. 10mM stock concentrations of fenretinide (H7779-Sigma), AM580 (A8843-Sigma), AGN194310 (SML2665-Sigma) and neratinib (Puma Biotechnology, Inc) were prepared in DMSO. For proliferation assays, cells were seeded in 96 well plates at a density of 3 X 104 cells per well for 24h. Cells were treated with a drug alone (2X concentration) or combination of drugs (4X concentration) in 100μL of medium. Proliferation was measured using an acid phosphatase-based assay after 5 days as percentage growth versus DMSO control. The half maximal inhibitory concentration (IC50) was calculated for each drug, using CalcuSyn. The combination assays were performed using fixed ratios. The combination index (CI) values were calculated at the effective dose that inhibits 50% growth (ED50), using CalcuSyn. Values < 1 represent a synergistic effect, a value of 1 is additive and values > 1 represent an antagonistic effect. All data presented as the mean of biological triplicate experiments ± standard deviation. Results: This research has found that the synthetic retinoic acid fenretinide, a pan-RAR (α, β and γ) activator, was more potent in the HCC1569 cells compared to the SKBR3 cell line with an IC50 of 0.21 ± 0.03μM compared to 4.55 ± 0.87 μM, respectively. However, when combined with neratinib there was a strong antagonistic effect observed in the HCC1569 cell line (CI value: 15.63 ± 9.5). Conversely, fenretinide enhanced the effect of neratinib in the SKBR3 cell line (CI value: 0.83 ± 0.4). The RARα-specific activator AM580 had an IC50 >10μM for both cell lines. When combined with neratinib there was an additive effect observed in the RARα negative HCC1569 cells (CI value: 0.97 ± 0.4), and a synergistic effect observed in the RARα upregulated SKBR3 cell line (CI value: 0.78 ± 0.08). Next we wanted to determine if inhibiting RAR activity would have any effect on the proliferation of these cell lines. The IC50 for the pan-RAR (α, β and γ) antagonist AGN194310 was >10μM for each cell line. However, when combined with neratinib treatment there was a strong synergistic effect observed in the HCC1569 cell line (CI value: 0.52 ± 0.17) and the SKBR3 cell line (CI value: 0.66 ± 0.19). Conclusions: This study suggests a differential effect of RAR agonists when combined with neratinib in RARα amplified versus non-amplified HER2+ BC. Targeting RAR signalling, particularly with a RAR antagonist, in combination with the pan-HER inhibitor warrants further investigation in HER2+ BC.

Citation Format: Debbie O'Reilly, Nicola Gaynor, Neil Conlon, Irmina Diala, Lisa D Eli, John Crown, Denis M Collins. Inhibiting retinoic acid receptor signalling enhances the effect of neratinib in HER2 positive breast cancer cell lines [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 2021 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium; 2021 Dec 7-10; San Antonio, TX. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2022;82(4 Suppl):Abstract nr P2-13-28.