A novel pharmacodynamic approach to assess and predict tumor response to the epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitor gefitinib in patients with esophageal cancer

Soner Altiok, Heather Mezzadra, Sanjay Jagannath, Nancy Tsottles, Michelle A. Rudek, Nadia Abdallah, David Berman, Arlene Forastiere, Michael K. Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


This study aimed to describe a short-term ex vivo assay to predict response to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) targeted therapy (gefitinib) in adenocarcinoma patients. Four patients with locally advanced esophageal adenocarcinoma were treated with gefitinib (250 mg/day) for 14 days and pharmacokinetic (PK) studies were conducted to monitor plasma drug concentrations. Tumor cells were sampled by endoscopic biopsy prior to (baseline, day 0) and at the completion of (day 14) treatment. Cells obtained at baseline were exposed to gefitinib in short-term cell culture conditions (ex vivo assay). Western blot analyses with phospho-specific antibodies were performed to evaluate activation and biochemical response to therapy of EGFR and its downstream signaling components ERK and AKT ex vivo and in vivo. The in vivo profiles were correlated with the gefitinib-mediated alteration in proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) expression, a marker of cell proliferation. The correlation between EGFR expression and ERK activity was also investigated by immunohistochemical analysis in pretreatment biopsies. Mutational status of the genes encoding EGFR, K-RAS, and PI3KCA (the phosphoinositide 3-kinase catalytic subunit p110) as well as expression levels of PTEN protein were tested in order to investigate potential confounders of the gefitinib effect. All patients completed the gefitinib therapy. PK studies demonstrated constant gefitinib concentrations during the treatment, confirming persistent exposure of target tissue to the drug at sufficient levels to achieve EGFR blockade. Ex vivo culture with gefitinib resulted in distinct response patterns representing various states of activity of the ERK and AKT pathways. The results of the ex vivo studies correctly predicted the pharmacodynamic (PD) effects of the agents in tumor tissue in vivo. PCNA expression correlated with ERK pathway inhibition, but not with gefitinib-mediated inhibition of EGFR activity alone. Immunohistochemical analysis performed on pretreatment biopsies correlated with Western blot analysis of EGFR and phospho-ERK expression. No mutations were identified in exons 18-21 of EGFR, exons 2 and 3 of K-RAS or exons 9 and 22 of PI3KCA. Levels of PTEN were comparable across tumors. The novel pharmacodynamic approach described in this proof of principle study may be useful to refine the patient selection to maximize the potential benefits of drugs and design individualized rational therapies for cancer patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-27
Number of pages9
JournalInternational journal of oncology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Chemosensitivity assay
  • Esophageal carcinoma
  • Gefitinib
  • Targeted agents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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