Research Papers:

MEK5/ERK5 signaling inhibition increases colon cancer cell sensitivity to 5-fluorouracil through a p53-dependent mechanism

Diane M. Pereira, André E. S. Simões, Sofia E. Gomes, Rui E. Castro, Tânia Carvalho, Cecília M. P. Rodrigues and Pedro M. Borralho _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:34322-34340. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9107

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Diane M. Pereira1, André E. S. Simões1, Sofia E. Gomes1, Rui E. Castro1, Tânia Carvalho2, Cecília M. P. Rodrigues1,*, Pedro M. Borralho1,*

1Research Institute for Medicines (iMed.ULisboa), Faculty of Pharmacy, Universidade de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal

2Histology and Comparative Pathology Laboratory, Instituto de Medicina Molecular, Lisbon, Portugal

*These authors have contributed equally and share senior authorship

Correspondence to:

Cecília M. P. Rodrigues, email: [email protected]

Pedro M. Borralho, email: [email protected]

Keywords: MEK5/ERK5, p53, 5-fluorouracil, apoptosis, chemosensitization

Received: November 16, 2015     Accepted: March 31, 2016     Published: April 29, 2016


The MEK5/ERK5 signaling pathway is emerging as an important contributor to colon cancer onset, progression and metastasis; however, its relevance to chemotherapy resistance remains unknown. Here, we evaluated the impact of the MEK5/ERK5 cascade in colon cancer cell sensitivity to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). Increased ERK5 expression was correlated with poor overall survival in colon cancer patients. In colon cancer cells, 5-FU exposure impaired endogenous KRAS/MEK5/ERK5 expression and/or activation. In turn, MEK5 constitutive activation reduced 5-FU-induced cytotoxicity. Using genetic and pharmacological approaches, we showed that ERK5 inhibition increased caspase-3/7 activity and apoptosis following 5-FU exposure. Mechanistically, this was further associated with increased p53 transcriptional activation of p21 and PUMA. In addition, ERK5 inhibition increased the response of HCT116 p53+/+ cells to 5-FU, but failed to sensitize HCT116 p53−/− cells to the cytotoxic effects of this chemotherapeutic agent, suggesting a p53-dependent axis mediating 5-FU sensitization. Finally, ERK5 inhibition using XMD8-92 was shown to increase the antitumor effects of 5-FU in a murine subcutaneous xenograft model, enhancing apoptosis while markedly reducing tumor growth. Collectively, our results suggest that ERK5-targeted inhibition provides a promising therapeutic approach to overcome resistance to 5-FU-based chemotherapy and improve colon cancer treatment.

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