Earlier diagnosis of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) requires better understanding of the mechanisms driving tumorigenesis. In this context, depletion of Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) is known to impair development of PDAC-initiating lesions called acinar-to-ductal metaplasia (ADM) and Pancreatic Intraepithelial Neoplasia (PanIN). In contrast, the role of v-erb-b2 erythroblastic leukemia viral oncogene homolog 2 (ERBB2), the preferred dimerization partner of EGFR, remains poorly understood. Here, using a mouse model with inactivation of Erbb2 in pancreatic acinar cells, we found that Erbb2 is dispensable for inflammation- and KRas-induced development of ADM and PanIN. A mathematical model of EGFR/ERBB2-KRAS signaling, which was calibrated on mouse and human data, supported the observed roles of EGFR and ERBB2. However, this model also predicted that overexpression of ERBB2 stimulates ERBB/KRAS signaling; this prediction was validated experimentally. We conclude that EGFR and ERBB2 differentially impact ERBB signaling during PDAC tumorigenesis, and that the oncogenic potential of ERBB2 is only manifested when it is overexpressed. Therefore, the level of ERBB2, not only its mere presence, needs to be considered when designing therapies targeting ERBB signaling.

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PubMed