TRAF4 hyperactivates HER2 signaling and contributes to Trastuzumab resistance in HER2-positive breast cancer

Yayun Gu, Huanyao Gao, Huan Zhang, August John, Xiujuan Zhu, Suganti Shivaram, Jia Yu, Richard M. Weinshilboum, Liewei Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The HER2 receptor modulates downstream signaling by forming homodimers and heterodimers with other members of the HER family. For patients with HER2-positive breast cancer, Trastuzumab, an anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody as first-line therapy has shown significant survival benefits. However, the development of acquired resistance to Trastuzumab continues to be a significant obstacle. TNF receptor-associated factor 4 (TRAF4) upregulation was discovered to be associated with a worse clinical outcome. Here we identified TRAF4 overexpression as one of the putative mechanisms for HER2-positive breast cancer cells to maintain HER2 signaling during Trastuzumab treatment, while TRAF4 knockdown reduced HER2 stability and improved Trastuzumab sensitivity. Mechanistically, TRAF4 regulates HER2 level through its impact on SMAD specific E3 ubiquitin protein ligase protein 2 (SMURF2). The development of a membrane-associated protein complex containing HER2, TRAF4, and SMURF2 has been observed. SMURF2 bound to the HER2 cytoplasmic domain, and directly ubiquitinated it leading to HER2 degradation, whereas TRAF4 stabilized HER2 by degrading SMURF2 and inhibiting the binding of SMURF2 to HER2. Moreover, downregulation of TRAF4 has decreased the AKT/mTOR signaling. In conclusion, we discovered a new HER2 signaling regulation that involves the TRAF4-SMURF2 complex, a possible mechanism that might contribute to anti-HER2 resistance, making TRAF4 a viable target for treating HER2 + breast cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4119-4129
Number of pages11
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 26 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cancer Research


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