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Mol Cancer Ther. 2016 Dec;15(12):3015-3027. Epub 2016 Oct 7.

Mutant BRAF Upregulates MCL-1 to Confer Apoptosis Resistance that Is Reversed by MCL-1 Antagonism and Cobimetinib in Colorectal Cancer.

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Departments of Medicine and Oncology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida.
Departments of Medicine and Oncology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.


Oncogenic BRAFV600E mutations activate MAPK signaling and are associated with treatment resistance and poor prognosis in patients with colorectal cancer. In BRAFV600E-mutant colorectal cancers, treatment failure may be related to BRAFV600E-mediated apoptosis resistance that occurs by an as yet undefined mechanism. We found that BRAFV600E can upregulate anti-apoptotic MCL-1 in a gene dose-dependent manner using colorectal cancer cell lines isogenic for BRAF BRAFV600E-induced MCL-1 upregulation was confirmed by ectopic BRAFV600E expression that activated MEK/ERK signaling to phosphorylate (MCL-1Thr163) and stabilize MCL-1. Upregulation of MCL-1 was mediated by MEK/ERK shown by the ability of ERK siRNA to suppress MCL-1. Stabilization of MCL-1 by phosphorylation was shown by a phosphorylation-mimicking mutant and an unphosphorylated MCL-1 mutant that decreased or increased MCL-1 protein turnover, respectively. MEK/ERK inhibition by cobimetinib suppressed MCL-1 expression/phosphorylation and induced proapoptotic BIM to a greater extent than did vemurafenib in BRAFV600E cell lines. MCL-1 knockdown versus control shRNA significantly enhanced cobimetinib-induced apoptosis in vitro and in HT29 colon cancer xenografts. The small-molecule MCL-1 inhibitor, A-1210477, also enhanced cobimetinib-induced apoptosis in vitro that was due to disruption of the interaction of MCL-1 with proapoptotic BAK and BIM. Knockdown of BIM attenuated BAX, but not BAK, activation by cobimetinib plus A-1210477. In summary, BRAFV600E-mediated MEK/ERK activation can upregulate MCL-1 by phosphorylation/stabilization to confer apoptosis resistance that can be reversed by MCL-1 antagonism combined with cobimetinib, suggesting a novel therapeutic strategy against BRAFV600E-mutant CRCs. Mol Cancer Ther; 15(12); 3015-27.

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Conflict of interest statement

Conflict of Interest. The authors report no conflicts related to the content of the manuscript.

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