Research Papers:

MEK inhibition is a promising therapeutic strategy for MLL-rearranged infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients carrying RAS mutations

Mark Kerstjens, Emma M.C. Driessen, Merel Willekes, Sandra S. Pinhanços, Pauline Schneider, Rob Pieters and Ronald W. Stam _

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Oncotarget. 2017; 8:14835-14846. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.11730

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Mark Kerstjens1,*, Emma M.C. Driessen1,*, Merel Willekes1, Sandra S. Pinhanços1, Pauline Schneider1, Rob Pieters1,2, Ronald W. Stam1

1Department of Pediatric Oncology/Hematology, Erasmus MC-Sophia Children’s Hospital, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

2Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology, Utrecht, The Netherlands

*These authors have contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to:

Ronald W. Stam, email: [email protected]

Keywords: MLL-rearrangements, RAS-pathway, leukemia, MEK inhibitors

Received: May 31, 2016     Accepted: August 13, 2016     Published: August 31, 2016


Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in infants is an aggressive malignancy with a poor clinical outcome, and is characterized by translocations of the Mixed Lineage Leukemia (MLL) gene. Previously, we identified RAS mutations in 14-24% of infant ALL patients, and showed that the presence of a RAS mutation decreased the survival chances even further. We hypothesized that targeting the RAS signaling pathway could be a therapeutic strategy for RAS-mutant infant ALL patients. Here we show that the MEK inhibitors Trametinib, Selumetinib and MEK162 severely impair primary RAS-mutant MLL-rearranged infant ALL cells in vitro. While all RAS-mutant samples were sensitive to MEK inhibitors, we found both sensitive and resistant samples among RAS-wildtype cases. We confirmed enhanced RAS pathway signaling in RAS-mutant samples, but found no apparent downstream over-activation in the wildtype samples. However, we did confirm that MEK inhibitors reduced p-ERK levels, and induced apoptosis in the RAS-mutant MLL-rearranged ALL cells. Finally, we show that MEK inhibition synergistically enhances prednisolone sensitivity, both in RAS-mutant and RAS-wildtype cells. In conclusion, MEK inhibition represents a promising therapeutic strategy for MLL-rearranged ALL patients harboring RAS mutations, while patients without RAS mutations may benefit through prednisolone sensitization.

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