Somatic mutations in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene are associated with the therapeutic response to EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The response rate to these drugs remains low, however, in NSCLC patients with wild-type EGFR alleles. Combination therapies with EGFR-TKIs and cytotoxic agents are considered a therapeutic option for patients with NSCLC expressing wild-type EGFR. We investigated the antiproliferative effect of the combination of the oral fluorouracil S-1 and the EGFR-TKI gefitinib in NSCLC cells of differing EGFR status. The combination of 5-fluorouracil and gefitinib showed a synergistic antiproliferative effect in vitro in all NSCLC cell lines tested. Combination chemotherapy with S-1 and gefitinib in vivo also had a synergistic antitumor effect on NSCLC xenografts regardless of the absence or presence of EGFR mutations. Gefitinib inhibited the expression of the transcription factor E2F-1, resulting in the down-regulation of thymidylate synthase at the mRNA and protein levels. These observations suggest that gefitinib-induced down-regulation of thymidylate synthase is responsible, at least in part, for the synergistic antitumor effect of combined treatment with S-1 and gefitinib and provide a basis for clinical evaluation of combination chemotherapy with S-1 and EGFR-TKIs in patients with solid tumors.
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