The type-III deletion variant of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFRvIII) is frequently found in glioblastomas and other malignant human tumours. Although EGFRvIII confers ligand-independent oncogenic transformation of cell lines, the mechanism by which it promotes aberrant cellular proliferation is unknown. Using cell lines expressing comparable numbers of either wild-type receptor (EGFRwt) or EGFRvIII, we compared several parameters of receptor activation: dimerization, tyrosine phosphorylation and activation of intracellular signalling proteins. Like activated EGFRwt, EGFRvIII was phosphorylated and bound constitutively to the Shc adapter protein. Indeed, EGFRvIII-associated Shc had a higher phosphotyrosine content than Shc associated with stimulated EGFRwt. EGFRwt dimerized in response to either EGF or transforming growth factor α. Higher cross-linker concentrations and incubation at higher temperatures (37 °C) allowed detection of EGFRwt dimers even in the absence of exogenous ligand. In contrast, EGFRvIII failed to dimerize under any conditions studied. Moreover, neither mitogen-activated protein kinase nor phospholipase Cγ were phosphorylated in EGFRvIII-expressing cells. We conclude that the deletion of 267 amino acids from the 621-amino-acid N-terminal domain of EGFR does not result simply in a constitutively activated receptor, but alters the spectrum of signalling cascades utilized. Furthermore the ligand-independent transforming activity of EGFRvIII is independent of receptor dimerization.

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