Two HER2-specific mAbs, trastuzumab and pertuzumab (T+P), combined with chemotherapy comprise standard-of-care treatment for advanced HER2+ breast cancers (BC). While this antibody combination is highly effective, its synergistic mechanism-of-action (MOA) remains incompletely understood. Past studies have suggested that the synergy underlying this combination occurs through the different mechanisms elicited by these antibodies, with pertuzumab suppressing HER2 heterodimerization and trastuzumab inducing antitumor immunity. However, in vivo evidence for this synergy is lacking. In this study, we found that the therapeutic efficacy elicited by their combination occurs through their joint ability to activate the classical complement pathway, resulting in both complement-dependent cytotoxicity and complement-dependent cellular phagocytosis of HER2+ tumors. We also demonstrate that tumor C1q expression is positively associated with survival outcome in HER2+ BC patients and that complement regulators CD55 and CD59 were inversely correlated with outcome, suggesting the clinical importance of complement activity. Accordingly, inhibition of C1q in mice abolished the synergistic therapeutic activity of T+P therapy, whereas knockdown of CD55 and CD59 expression enhanced T+P efficacy. In summary, our study identifies classical complement activation as a significant antitumor MOA for T+P therapy that may be functionally enhanced to potentially augment clinical therapeutic efficacy.


Li-Chung Tsao, Erika J. Crosby, Timothy N. Trotter, Junping Wei, Tao Wang, Xiao Yang, Amanda N. Summers, Gangjun Lei, Christopher A. Rabiola, Lewis A. Chodosh, William J. Muller, Herbert Kim Lyerly, Zachary C. Hartman


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