Targeting mTOR signaling overcomes acquired resistance to combined BRAF and MEK inhibition in BRAF-mutant melanoma

Targeting MAPK pathway using a combination of BRAF and MEK inhibitors is an efficient strategy to treat melanoma harboring BRAF-mutation. The development of acquired resistance is inevitable due to the signaling pathway rewiring. Combining western blotting, immunohistochemistry, and reverse phase protein array (RPPA), we aim to understanding the role of the mTORC1 signaling pathway, a center node of intracellular signaling network, in mediating drug resistance of BRAF-mutant melanoma to the combination of BRAF inhibitor (BRAFi) and MEK inhibitor (MEKi) therapy. The mTORC1 signaling pathway is initially suppressed by BRAFi and MEKi combination in melanoma but rebounds overtime after tumors acquire resistance to the combination therapy (CR) as assayed in cultured cells and PDX models. In vitro experiments showed that a subset of CR melanoma cells was sensitive to mTORC1 inhibition. The mTOR inhibitors, rapamycin and NVP-BEZ235, induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in CR cell lines. As a proof-of-principle, we demonstrated that rapamycin and NVP-BEZ235 treatment reduced tumor growth in CR xenograft models. Mechanistically, AKT or ERK contributes to the activation of mTORC1 in CR cells, depending on PTEN status of these cells. Our study reveals that mTOR activation is essential for drug resistance of melanoma to MAPK inhibitors, and provides insight into the rewiring of the signaling networks in CR melanoma.

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