Das I, Wilhelm M, Höiom V, Franco Marquez R, Costa Svedman F, Hansson J, Tuominen R, Egyhàzi Brage S
Cell Death Dis 10 (9) 663 [2019-09-10; online 2019-09-10]
Current treatment modalities for disseminated cutaneous malignant melanoma (CMM) improve survival; however, relapses are common. A number of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) including EGFR and MET have been reported to be involved in CMM metastasis and in the development of resistance to therapy, targeting the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK pathway). IHC analysis showed that patients with higher MET protein expression had a significantly shorter overall survival. In addition, silencing of MET caused an upregulation of EGFR and p-AKT, which was abrogated by concomitant silencing of MET and EGFR in CMM cells resistant to MAPK-targeting drugs. We therefore explored novel treatment strategies using clinically approved drugs afatinib (ERBB family inhibitor) and crizotinib (MET inhibitor), to simultaneously block MET and ERBB family RTKs. The effects of the combination were assessed in cell culture and spheroid models using established CMM and patient-derived short-term cell lines, and an in vivo xenograft mouse model. The combination had a synergistic effect, promoting cell death, concomitant with a potent downregulation of migratory and invasive capacity independent of their BRAF/NRAS mutational status. Furthermore, the combination attenuated tumor growth rate, as ascertained by the significant reduction of Ki67 expression and induced DNA damage in vivo. Importantly, this combination therapy had minimal therapy-related toxicity in mice. Lastly, the cell cycle G2 checkpoint kinase WEE1 and the RTK IGF1R, non-canonical targets, were altered upon exposure to the combination. Knockdown of WEE1 abrogated the combination-mediated effects on cell migration and proliferation in BRAF mutant BRAF inhibitor-sensitive cells, whereas WEE1 silencing alone inhibited cell migration in NRAS mutant cells. In summary, our results show that afatinib and crizotinib in combination is a promising alternative targeted therapy option for CMM patients, irrespective of BRAF/NRAS mutational status, as well as for cases where resistance has developed towards BRAF inhibitors.