Epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor-alpha (TGFα) are two closely related peptides that interact with cell-surface epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR) to induce receptor tyrosine phosphorylation and activation of intracellular signal-transduction pathways. EGF appears to be the predominant EGF-related growth factor in the normal prostate and in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Evidence indicates that EGF and TGFα are important for maintainence of the structural and functional integrity of the benign prostatic epithelium. The EGF-related peptides are primarily localized to the secretory epithelium of the benign prostate, and their production and secretion is augmented by the presence of circulating androgens. EGFR are located in the basal/neuroendocrine (NE) compartment of the benign prostate and exhibit relatively androgen-independent expression. The EGF-related peptides and EGFR are also present in neoplastic prostatic tissues. There is currently no direct evidence to implicate EGFR activation in the pathogenesis of BPH. However, the EGF-related peptides appear to play a functional role in the growth of prostatic carcinoma cells, with TGFα being the predominant growth factor. Numerous investigators have demonstrated the functional significance of a TGFα/EGFR-mediated autocrine growth pathway in cultured prostatic carcinoma cells. Studies of cultured prostate cancer cells, but not normal epithelial cells, demonstrate constitutive activation of EGFR. Androgen-independent cancer cells exhibit more EGFR expression and phosphorylation than do androgen-responsive prostate cancer cells. Most studies indicate that EGFR do not play a functional role in androgen-stimulated growth of prostate cancer cells. Several studies have correlated EGFR expression with increased nuclear size and tumor dedifferentiation. Future studies should focus on determining both the prognostic significance of EGFR expression and whether manipulation of EGFR-mediated growth can be exploited for therapeutic benefit in human prostate cancer.
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