While HER2 and EGFR are overexpressed in breast cancers and multiple other types of tumors, the use of EGFR and/or HER2 inhibitors have failed to cure many cancer patients, largely because cancers acquire resistance to HER2/EGFR-specific drugs. Cancers that overexpress the HER-family proteins EGFR, HER2, and HER3 are uniquely sensitive to agents that disrupt HER2 and EGFR protein folding. We previously showed that disruption of disulfide bond formation by Disulfide Disrupting Agents (DDAs) kills HER2/EGFR overexpressing cells through multiple mechanisms. Herein, we show that interference with proline isomerization in HER2/EGFR overexpressing cells also induces cancer cell death. The peptidyl-prolyl isomerase inhibitor Cyclosporine A (CsA) selectively kills EGFR+ or HER2+ breast cancer cells in vitro by activating caspase-dependent apoptotic pathways. Further, CsA synergizes with the DDA tcyDTDO to kill HER2/EGFR overexpressing cells in vitro and the two agents cooperate to kill HER2+ tumors in vivo. There is a critical need for novel strategies to target HER2+ and EGFR+ cancers that are resistant to currently available mechanism-based agents. Drugs that target HER2/EGFR protein folding, including DDAs and CsA, have the potential to kill cancers that overexpress EGFR or HER2 through the induction of proteostatic synthetic lethality.
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