Research Papers:

BRAF associated autophagy exploitation: BRAF and autophagy inhibitors synergise to efficiently overcome resistance of BRAF mutant colorectal cancer cells

Maria Goulielmaki, Evangelos Koustas, Eirini Moysidou, Margarita Vlassi, Takehiko Sasazuki, Senji Shirasawa, George Zografos, Eftychia Oikonomou and Alexander Pintzas _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:9188-9221. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.6942

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Maria Goulielmaki1, Evangelos Koustas1, Eirini Moysidou1, Margarita Vlassi1, Takehiko Sasazuki2, Senji Shirasawa3, George Zografos4, Eftychia Oikonomou1, Alexander Pintzas1

1Laboratory of Signal Mediated Gene Expression, Institute of Biology, Medicinal Chemistry and Biotechnology, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, Greece

2Institute for Advanced Study, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan

3Department of Cell Biology, Faculty of Medicine, Fukuoka University, Fukuoka, Japan

43rd Department of Surgery, General Hospital of Athens G. Gennimatas, Athens, Greece

Correspondence to:

Alexander Pintzas, e-mail: [email protected]

Keywords: colorectal cancer, BRAF inhibitors, autophagy inhibitors, synergistic treatments

Received: August 12, 2015     Accepted: January 02, 2016     Published: January 18, 2016


Autophagy is the basic catabolic mechanism that involves cell degradation of unnecessary or dysfunctional cellular components. Autophagy has a controversial role in cancer – both in protecting against tumor progression by isolation of damaged organelles, or by potentially contributing to cancer growth. The impact of autophagy in RAS induced transformation still remains to be further analyzed based on the differential effect of RAS isoforms and tumor cell context. In the present study, the effect of KRAS/BRAF/PIK3CA oncogenic pathways on the autophagic cell properties and on main components of the autophagic machinery like p62 (SQSTM1), Beclin-1 (BECN1) and MAP1LC3 (LC3) in colon cancer cells was investigated. This study provides evidence that BRAF oncogene induces the expression of key autophagic markers, like LC3 and BECN1 in colorectal tumor cells. Herein, PI3K/AKT/MTOR inhibitors induce autophagic tumor properties, whereas RAF/MEK/ERK signalling inhibitors reduce expression of autophagic markers. Based on the ineffectiveness of BRAFV600E inhibitors in BRAFV600E bearing colorectal tumors, the BRAF related autophagic properties in colorectal cancer cells are further exploited, by novel combinatorial anti-cancer protocols. Strong evidence is provided here that pre-treatment of autophagy inhibitor 3-MA followed by its combination with BRAFV600E targeting drug PLX4720 can synergistically sensitize resistant colorectal tumors. Notably, colorectal cancer cells are very sensitive to mono-treatments of another autophagy inhibitor, Bafilomycin A1. The findings of this study are expected to provide novel efficient protocols for treatment of otherwise resistant colorectal tumors bearing BRAFV600E, by exploiting the autophagic properties induced by BRAF oncogene.

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