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Clin Cancer Res. 2013 Feb 1;19(3):598-609. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-12-2731. Epub 2012 Oct 24.

The activation of MAPK in melanoma cells resistant to BRAF inhibition promotes PD-L1 expression that is reversible by MEK and PI3K inhibition.

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  • 1Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.



Selective BRAF inhibition (BRAFi) provides a paradigm shift for melanoma treatment. The duration of benefit is typically limited before resistance develops. Interest remains in combining targeted and immune therapies to overcome resistance and improve durability of clinical benefit. One mechanism of evading immune destruction is programmed death-1-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression by tumors that results in potent antitumor immune suppression.


BRAFi-resistant melanoma cells were examined for changes in PD-L1 expression by immunoblot and flow cytometry. Signaling pathways involved in altering PD-L1 expression were examined. Strategies to maximize the effect of the BRAFi therapy were studied including MEKi, MEKi combinations, and additional pathways including phosphoinositide-3 kinase (PI3K).


Melanoma cells resistant to BRAFi exhibit increased MAPK signaling and promotion of PD-L1 expression. PD-L1 expression is transcriptionally modulated by c-Jun and augmented by STAT3. MEK inhibition (MEKi) regains downregulation of MAPK signaling and suppresses the production of PD-L1. MEKi in melanoma cells shows dual therapeutic effects with simultaneous suppression of PD-L1 expression and induction of apoptosis. By combining MEKi with BRAFi, an additive effect on the inhibition of PD-L1 expression results.


We report a novel mechanism that suppresses preexisting immune responses in patients with melanoma receiving BRAFi therapy. BRAFi resistance leads to increased expression of PD-L1 in melanoma cells, mediated by c-Jun and STAT3. MEKi may be feasible to counteract BRAFi resistance of MAPK reactivation and also for the additive effect of PD-L1 suppression. Potential therapeutic benefits of combining targeted inhibitors and immune modulation to improve patient outcomes should be investigated.

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