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Expression of EGFR by myeloid cells of the colorectal tumor stroma contributes to tumor development

EGFR in tumor-associated myeloid cells promotes development of colorectal cancer in mice and associates with outcomes of patients. Inhibitors of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) are the first-line therapy for patients with metastatic colorectal tumors without RAS mutations. However, EGFR inhibitors are ineffective in these patients, and tumor level of EGFR does not associate with response to therapy. 

We detected EGFR in myeloid cells in the stroma of human colorectal tumors; myeloid cell expression of EGFR associated with tumor metastasis and shorter patient survival time. Mice with deletion of EGFR from myeloid cells formed significantly fewer and smaller tumors than the respective EGFR-expressing controls in an ApcMin/+ background. EGFR signaling in myeloid cells promoted activation of STAT3 and expression of survivin in intestinal tumor cells. Mice with deletion of EGFR from myeloid cells developed more severe colitis after DSS administration, characterized by increased intestinal inflammation and intestinal barrier disruption, than control mice or mice with deletion of EGFR from intestinal epithelial cells.  Thus, increased expression of EGFR in myeloid cells from the colorectal tumor stroma associates with tumor progression and reduced survival time of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. Deletion of EGFR from myeloid cells, but not intestinal epithelial cells, protects mice from colitis-induced intestinal cancer and ApcMin-dependent intestinal tumorigenesis. Myeloid cell expression of EGFR increases activation of STAT3 and expression of survivin in intestinal epithelial cells and expression of IL6 in colon tissues. These findings indicate that expression of EGFR by myeloid cells of the colorectal tumor stroma, rather than the cancer cells themselves, contributes to tumor development.

These results were now reported in Gastroenterology.