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Oncogene. 2016 Jul 14;35(28):3681-91. doi: 10.1038/onc.2015.434. Epub 2015 Nov 30.

ALK inhibitor resistance in ALK(F1174L)-driven neuroblastoma is associated with AXL activation and induction of EMT.

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Department of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Pediatric Oncology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA.
Department of Cancer Biology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


The crizotinib-resistant ALK(F1174L) mutation arises de novo in neuroblastoma (NB) and is acquired in ALK translocation-driven cancers, lending impetus to the development of novel anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) inhibitors with different modes of action. The diaminopyrimidine TAE684 and its derivative ceritinib (LDK378), which are structurally distinct from crizotinib, are active against NB cells expressing ALK(F1174L). Here we demonstrate acquired resistance to TAE684 and LDK378 in ALK(F1174L)-driven human NB cells that is linked to overexpression and activation of the AXL tyrosine kinase and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). AXL phosphorylation conferred TAE684 resistance to NB cells through upregulated extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) signaling. Inhibition of AXL partly rescued TAE684 resistance, resensitizing these cells to this compound. AXL activation in resistant cells was mediated through increased expression of the active form of its ligand, GAS6, that also served to stabilize the AXL protein. Although ectopic expression of AXL and TWIST2 individually in TAE684-sensitive parental cells led to the elevated expression of mesenchymal markers and invasive capacity, only AXL overexpression induced resistance to TAE684 as well. TAE684-resistant cells showed greater sensitivity to HSP90 inhibition than did their parental counterparts, with downregulation of AXL and AXL-mediated ERK signaling. Our studies indicate that aberrant AXL signaling and development of an EMT phenotype underlie resistance of ALK(F1174L)-driven NB cells to TAE684 and its derivatives. We suggest that the combination of ALK and AXL or HSP90 inhibitors be considered to delay the emergence of such resistance.

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