Activation of ER stress and inhibition of EGFR N-glycosylation by tunicamycin enhances susceptibility of human non-small cell lung cancer cells to erlotinib

Yi He Ling, Tianhong Li, Roman Perez-Soler, Missak Haigentz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

39 Scopus citations


Purpose: The epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), an N-glycosylated transmembrane protein, is the target of erlotinib, an orally bioavailable agent approved for treatment of patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In this study, we examined whether inhibition of EGFR N-glycosylation and stimulation of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress by tunicamycin enhances erlotinib-induced growth inhibition in NSCLC cell lines. Methods: We examined the effects of tunicamycin and erlotinib on cytotoxicity of erlotinib-sensitive and resistant NSCLC cell lines, as well its effects on apoptotic pathways and on EGFR activation and subcellular localization. Results: A minimally cytotoxic concentration of tunicamycin (1 μM) resulted in~2.6-2.9 fold and~6.8-13.5 fold increase in erlotinib-induced antiproliferative effects in sensitive (H322 and H358) and resistant cell lines (A549 and H1650), respectively. We found that tunicamycin generated an aglycosylated form of 130 kDa EGFR. Tunicamycin additionally affected EGFR activation and subcellular localization. Interestingly, the combination of tunicamycin and erlotinib caused more inhibitory effect on EGFR phosphorylation than that of erlotinib alone. Moreover, the combination induced apoptosis in H1650 cells through induction of CHOP expression, activation of caspase-12 and caspase-3, cleavage of PARP and bak, and down-regulation of anti-apoptotic proteins bcl-xL and survivin. Conclusions: Overall, our data demonstrate that tunicamycin significantly enhances the susceptibility of lung cancer cells to erlotinib, particularly sensitizing resistant cell lines to erlotinib, and that such sensitization may be associated with activation of the ER stress pathway and with inhibition of EGFR N-glycosylation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-548
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes



  • ER stress
  • Erlotinib
  • Human NSCLC cells
  • Tunicamycin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Toxicology

Cite this