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Epidermal growth factor receptor
File:EGFR structure.png
The extracellular domain of EGFR in a complex with EGF PDB: 1NQL
Alt. symbolsERBB1
Other data
EC number2.7.1.112
LocusChr. 7 p12

The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR; ErbB-1; HER1 in humans) is the cell-surface receptor for members of the epidermal growth factor family (EGF-family) of extracellular protein ligands. The epidermal growth factor receptor is a member of the ErbB family of receptors, a subfamily of four closely related receptor tyrosine kinases: EGFR (ErbB-1), HER2/c-neu (ErbB-2), Her 3 (ErbB-3) and Her 4 (ErbB-4). Mutations affecting EGFR expression or activity could result in cancer.


EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) exists on the cell surface and is activated by binding of its specific ligands, including epidermal growth factor and transforming growth factor α (TGFα) (note, a full list of the ligands able to activate EGFR and other members of the ErbB family is given in the ErbB article). ErbB2 has no known direct activating ligand, and may be in an activated state constitutively.

Upon activation by its growth factor ligands, EGFR undergoes a transition from an inactive monomeric form to an active homodimer - although there is some evidence that preformed inactive dimers may also exist before ligand binding. In addition to forming homodimers after ligand binding, EGFR may pair with another member of the ErbB receptor family, such as ErbB2/Her2/neu, to create an activated heterodimer. There is also evidence to suggest that clusters of activated EGFRs form, although it remains unclear whether this clustering is important for activation itself or occurs subsequent to activation of individual dimers.

Diagram of the EGF receptor highlighting important domains

EGFR dimerization stimulates its intrinsic intracellular protein-tyrosine kinase activity. As a result, autophosphorylation of five tyrosine (Y) residues in the C-terminal domain of EGFR occurs. These are Y992, Y1045, Y1068, Y1148 and Y1173 as shown in the diagram to the left. This autophosphorylation elicits downstream activation and signaling by several other proteins that associate with the phosphorylated tyrosines through their own phosphotyrosine-binding SH2 domains. These downstream signaling proteins initiate several signal transduction cascades, principally the MAPK, Akt and JNK pathways, leading to DNA synthesis and cell proliferation[1]. Such proteins modulate phenotypes such as cell migration, adhesion, and proliferation. The kinase domain of EGFR can also cross-phosphorylate tyrosine residues of other receptors it is aggregated with, and can itself be activated in that manner.

Clinical applications

Mutations that lead to EGFR overexpression (known as upregulation) or overactivity have been associated with a number of cancers, including lung cancer and glioblastoma multiforme. In this latter case a more or less specific mutation of EGFR, called EGFRvIII is often met with [1].

Mutations involving EGFR could lead to its constant activation which could result in uncontrolled cell division – a predisposition for cancer[2] . Consequently, mutations of EGFR have been identified in several types of cancer, and it is the target of an expanding class of anticancer therapies.

The identification of EGFR as an oncogene has led to the development of anticancer therapeutics directed against EGFR, including gefitinib[3] and erlotinib for lung cancer, and cetuximab for colon cancer.

Many therapeutic approaches are aimed at the EGFR [2]. Cetuximab and panitumumab are examples of monoclonal antibody inhibitors. However the former is of the IgG1 type, the latter of the IgG2 type; consequences on antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity can be quite different [3]. Other monoclonals in clinical development are zalutumumab, nimotuzumab, matuzumab. Gefitinib, erlotinib and lapatinib (the latter still in clinical trials) are examples of small molecule kinase inhibitors. The monoclonal antibodies block the extracellular ligand binding domain. With the binding site blocked, signal molecules can no longer attach there and activate the tyrosine kinase. Another method is using small molecules to inhibit the EGFR tyrosine kinase, which is on the cytoplasmic side of the receptor. Without kinase activity, EGFR is unable to activate itself, which is a prerequisite for binding of downstream adaptor proteins. Ostensibly by halting the signaling cascade in cells that rely on this pathway for growth, tumor proliferation and migration is diminished.

In July 2007 it was discovered that the blood clotting protein Fibrinogen inhibits EGFR, thereby blocking regrowth of injured neuronal cells in the spine. [4]


  1. a  A comprehensive pathway map of epidermal growth factor receptor signaling. Molecular Systems Biology doi:10.1038/msb4100014, 2005 May [5]
  2. a  Free text.png Activating mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor underlying responsiveness of non-small-cell lung cancer to gefitinib. N Engl J Med 2004 May 20; 350(21): 2129-39. PMID 15118073 Free text
  3. a  EGFR mutations in lung cancer: correlation with clinical response to gefitinib therapy. Science 2004 Jun 4; 304(5676): 1497-500. PMID 15118125

External links

  • Herbst R (2004). "Review of epidermal growth factor receptor biology". Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 59 (2 Suppl): 21–6. PMID 15142631.
  • Epidermal+Growth+Factor+Receptor at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
  • Fibrinogen, a blood-clotting protein, found to inhibit EGFR Explains lack of healing in spinal injuries.

de:EGF-Rezeptor fi:Epidermaalisen kasvutekijän reseptori