NDUFA4L2 promotes trastuzumab resistance in HER2-positive breast cancer

Yuan Yuan, Huanyao Gao, Yongxian Zhuang, Lixuan Wei, Jia Yu, Zhe Zhang, Lili Zhang, Liewei Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Trastuzumab (Herceptin) is the key systemic therapy for HER2-positive breast cancer. However, the initial response rate is limited to approximately 50% in patients. Moreover, most patients, especially at an advanced stage, eventually develop acquired resistance. Understanding the mechanisms of trastuzumab resistance is crucial for achieving better treatment outcome in this group of patients. Methods: A trastuzumab-resistant (TR) cell line was developed using the BT474 HER2-positive breast cancer cell line. Whole-transcriptome expression array was performed and the TR-related gene NDUFA4L2 was identified by differential expression analysis between BT474 and BT474-TR. Mitochondrial localization of NDUFA4L2 was confirmed by immunofluorescence and western blotting using mitochondrial fractionation. Mitochondrial function and energy metabolism were evaluated using Seahorse, ATP production, and lactate production assays, and cellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels were determined using DCFDA. NDUFA4L2 expression in patients was evaluated by immunohistochemistry, and relapse-free survival was analyzed using the Kaplan–Meier method. Results: NDUFA4L2 was highly expressed in the TR HER2-positive breast cancer cell line. High expression level of NDUFA4L2 was associated with shorter relapse-free intervals in trastuzumab-treated HER2-positive breast cancer patients. Overexpression of NDUFA4L2 enhanced Warburg effects, enhanced aerobic glycolysis, reduced oxygen consumption, and lowered ROS production. Mechanistically, overexpression of NDUFA4L2 facilitated mitochondrial relocalization of HER2 and suppressed ROS production, thus rendering cancer cells more resistant to trastuzumab treatment. Conclusions: We identified NDUFA4L2 as a new biomarker and potential therapeutic target for TR HER2-positive breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTherapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology
StatePublished - 2021


  • NDUFA4L2
  • Warburg effects
  • breast cancer
  • mitochondrial metabolism
  • trastuzumab resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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