Send to

Choose Destination
Br J Dermatol. 2019 Feb;180(2):346-356. doi: 10.1111/bjd.17333. Epub 2018 Nov 25.

Harnessing autophagy to overcome mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase inhibitor-induced resistance in metastatic melanoma.

Author information

Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, The Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, U.K.
Northern Institute for Cancer Research, Newcastle University, The Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, U.K.
Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, Central Parkway, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 3BZ, U.K.



Patients with malignant melanoma often relapse after treatment with BRAF and/or mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK) inhibitors (MEKi) owing to development of drug resistance.


To establish the temporal pattern of CD271 regulation during development of resistance by melanoma to trametinib, and determine the association between development of resistance to trametinib and induction of prosurvival autophagy.


Immunohistochemistry for CD271 and p62 was performed on human naevi and primary malignant melanoma tumours. Western blotting was used to analyse expression of CD271, p62 and LC3 in melanoma subpopulations. Flow cytometry and immunofluorescence microscopy was used to evaluate trametinib-induced cell death and CD271 expression. MTS viability assays and zebrafish xenografts were used to evaluate the effect of CD271 and autophagy modulation on trametinib-resistant melanoma cell survival and invasion, respectively.


CD271 and autophagic signalling are increased in stage III primary melanomas vs. benign naevi. In vitro studies demonstrate MEKi of BRAF-mutant melanoma induced cytotoxic autophagy, followed by the emergence of CD271-expressing subpopulations. Trametinib-induced CD271 reduced autophagic flux, leading to activation of prosurvival autophagy and development of MEKi resistance. Treatment of CD271-expressing melanoma subpopulations with RNA interference and small-molecule inhibitors to CD271 reduced the development of MEKi resistance, while clinically applicable autophagy modulatory agents - including Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and Vps34 - reduced survival of MEKi-resistant melanoma cells. Combined MEK/autophagy inhibition also reduced the invasive and metastatic potential of MEKi-resistant cells in an in vivo zebrafish xenograft.


These results highlight a novel mechanism of MEKi-induced drug resistance and suggest that targeting autophagy may be a translatable approach to resensitize drug-resistant melanoma cells to the cytotoxic effects of MEKi.


Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center