Oncogene. 2020 Sep 25. doi: 10.1038/s41388-020-01465-y. Online ahead of print.
Recent findings suggested a benefit of anti-EGFR therapy for basal-like muscle-invasive bladder cancer (MIBC). However, the impact on bladder cancer with substantial squamous differentiation (Sq-BLCA) and especially pure squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) remains unknown. Therefore, we comprehensively characterized pure and mixed Sq-BLCA (n = 125) on genetic and protein expression level, and performed functional pathway and drug-response analyses with cell line models and isolated primary SCC (p-SCC)
cells of the human urinary bladder. We identified abundant EGFR expression in 95% of Sq-BLCA without evidence for activating EGFR mutations. Both SCaBER and p-SCC cells were sensitive to EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs: erlotinib and gefitinib). Combined treatment with anti-EGFR TKIs and varying chemotherapeutics led to a concentration-dependent synergism in SCC cells according to the Chou-Talalay method. In addition, the siRNA knockdown of EGFR impaired SCaBER viability suggesting a putative "Achilles heel" of Sq-BLCA. The observed effects seem Sq-BLCA-specific since non-basal urothelial cancer cells were characterized by poor TKI sensitivity associated with a short-term feedback response potentially attenuating anti-tumor activity. Hence, our findings give further insights into a crucial, Sq-BLCA-specific role of the ERBB signaling pathway proposing improved effectiveness of anti-EGFR based regimens in combination with chemotherapeutics in squamous bladder cancers with wild-type EGFR-overexpression.