Research Papers:

Overexpression of Mcl-1 confers resistance to BRAFV600E inhibitors alone and in combination with MEK1/2 inhibitors in melanoma

Neel M. Fofaria, Dennie T. Frederick, Ryan J. Sullivan, Keith T. Flaherty and Sanjay K. Srivastava _

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Oncotarget. 2015; 6:40535-40556. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.5755

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Neel M. Fofaria1, Dennie T. Frederick2,3, Ryan J. Sullivan2,3, Keith T. Flaherty2,3, Sanjay K. Srivastava1

1Department of Biomedical Sciences and Cancer Biology Center, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Amarillo, TX, USA

2Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

3Division of Medical Oncology, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Correspondence to:

Sanjay K. Srivastava, e-mail: [email protected]

Keywords: BRAF inhibitors, de novo and acquired resistance, MEK1/2 inhibitors, Mcl-1, combination therapy

Received: August 21, 2015     Accepted: September 20, 2015     Published: October 14, 2015


Melanoma harboring BRAF mutations frequently develop resistance to BRAF inhibitors, limiting the impact of treatment. Here, we establish a mechanism of resistance and subsequently identified a suitable drug combination to overcome the resistance. Single treatment of BRAF mutant melanoma cell lines with vemurafenib or dabrafenib (BRAF inhibitors) alone or in combination with trametinib (MEK1/2 inhibitor) resulted in overexpression of Mcl-1. Overexpression of Mcl-1 in A375 and SK-MEL-28 by transfection completely blocked BRAF and MEK1/2 inhibitor-mediated inhibition of cell survival and apoptosis. Melanoma cells resistant to BRAF inhibitors showed massive expression of Mcl-1 as compared to respective sensitive cell lines. Silencing of Mcl-1 using siRNA completely sensitized resistant melanoma cells to growth suppression and induction of apoptosis by BRAF inhibitors. In vivo, vemurafenib resistant A375 xenografts implanted in athymic nude mice showed substantial tumor growth inhibition when treated with a combination of vemurafenib and Mcl-1 inhibitor or siRNA. Immunohistochemistry and western blot analyses demonstrated enhanced expression of Mcl-1 and activation of ERK1/2 in vemurafenib-resistant tumors whereas level of Mcl-1 or p-ERK1/2 was diminished in the tumors of mice treated with either of the combination. Biopsied tumors from the patients treated with or resistant to BRAF inhibitors revealed overexpression of Mcl-1. These results suggest that the combination of BRAF inhibitors with Mcl-1 inhibitor may have therapeutic advantage to melanoma patients with acquired resistance to BRAF inhibitors alone or in combination with MEK1/2 inhibitors.

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