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J Clin Invest. 2011 Nov;121(11):4311-21. doi: 10.1172/JCI57909. Epub 2011 Oct 10.

Receptor tyrosine kinases exert dominant control over PI3K signaling in human KRAS mutant colorectal cancers.

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Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


Therapies inhibiting receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) are effective against some human cancers when they lead to simultaneous downregulation of PI3K/AKT and MEK/ERK signaling. However, mutant KRAS has the capacity to directly activate ERK and PI3K signaling, and this is thought to underlie the resistance of KRAS mutant cancers to RTK inhibitors. Here, we have elucidated the molecular regulation of both the PI3K/AKT and MEK/ERK signaling pathways in KRAS mutant colorectal cancer cells and identified combination therapies that lead to robust cancer cell apoptosis. KRAS knockdown using shRNA suppressed ERK signaling in all of the human KRAS mutant colorectal cancer cell lines examined. However, no decrease, and actually a modest increase, in AKT phosphorylation was often seen. By performing PI3K immunoprecipitations, we determined that RTKs, often IGF-IR, regulated PI3K signaling in the KRAS mutant cell lines. This conclusion was also supported by the observation that specific RTK inhibition led to marked suppression of PI3K signaling and biochemical assessment of patient specimens. Interestingly, combination of RTK and MEK inhibitors led to concomitant inhibition of PI3K and MEK signaling, marked growth suppression, and robust apoptosis of human KRAS mutant colorectal cancer cell lines in vitro and upon xenografting in mice. These findings provide a framework for utilizing RTK inhibitors in the treatment of KRAS mutant colorectal cancers.

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