Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) are associated with significant responses in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients harboring EGFR-activating mutations. However, acquired resistance to reversible EGFR-TKIs remains a major obstacle. In particular, while the second-generation irreversible EGFR-TKI afatinib is currently used for treating NSCLC patients, the mechanisms underlying acquired afatinib resistance remain poorly understood. Here, heterogeneous mechanisms of acquired resistance were identified following long-term exposure to increasing doses of afatinib in EGFR mutant lung adenocarcinoma PC9 cells. Notably, three resistant cell lines, PC-9AFR1, PC-9AFR2, and PC-9AFR3 (AFR1, AFR2, and AFR3, respectively), employed distinct mechanisms for avoiding EGFR inhibition, with increased EGFR expression being detected in all resistant cell lines. Moreover, an activating EGFR mutation was partially lost in AFR1 and AFR2 cells. AFR1 cells exhibited afatinib resistance as a result of wild-type KRAS amplification and overexpression; however, these cells showed a progressive decrease and eventual loss of the acquired KRAS dependence, as well as resensitization to afatinib, following a drug holiday. Meanwhile, AFR2 cells exhibited increased expression of insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 3 (IGFBP3), which promoted insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor (IGF1R) activity and subsequent AKT phosphorylation, thereby indicating a potential bypass signaling pathway associated with IGFR1. Finally, AFR3 cells harbored the secondary EGFR mutation T790M. Our findings constitute the first report showing acquired wild-type KRAS overexpression and attenuation of afatinib resistance following a drug holiday. Implications: The heterogeneous mechanisms of afatinib resistance should facilitate the development of more effective therapeutic strategies for NSCLC patients.
- Received December 22, 2016.
- Revision received February 8, 2017.
- Accepted March 7, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.