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Clin Cancer Res. 2013 Feb 1;19(3):657-67. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-11-1446. Epub 2012 Dec 18.

Resistance to BRAF inhibition in BRAF-mutant colon cancer can be overcome with PI3K inhibition or demethylating agents.

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Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Texas, Houston, TX 77030, USA.



Vemurafenib, a selective inhibitor of BRAF(V600), has shown significant activity in BRAF(V600) melanoma but not in less than 10% of metastatic BRAF(V600) colorectal cancers (CRC), suggesting that studies of the unique hypermethylated phenotype and concurrent oncogenic activation of BRAF(mut) CRC may provide combinatorial strategies.


We conducted comparative proteomic analysis of BRAF(V600E) melanoma and CRC cell lines, followed by correlation of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway activation and sensitivity to the vemurafenib analogue PLX4720. Pharmacologic inhibitors and siRNA were used in combination with PLX4720 to inhibit PI3K and methyltransferase in cell lines and murine models.


Compared with melanoma, CRC lines show higher levels of PI3K/AKT pathway activation. CRC cell lines with mutations in PTEN or PIK3CA were less sensitive to growth inhibition by PLX4720 (P = 0.03), and knockdown of PTEN expression in sensitive CRC cells reduced growth inhibition by the drug. Combined treatment of PLX4720 with PI3K inhibitors caused synergistic growth inhibition in BRAF-mutant CRC cells with both primary and secondary resistance. In addition, methyltransferase inhibition was synergistic with PLX4720 and decreased AKT activation. In vivo, PLX4720 combined with either inhibitors of AKT or methyltransferase showed greater tumor growth inhibition than PLX4720 alone. Clones with acquired resistance to PLX4720 in vitro showed PI3K/AKT activation with EGF receptor (EGFR) or KRAS amplification.


We show that activation of the PI3K/AKT pathway is a mechanism of both innate and acquired resistance to BRAF inhibitors in BRAF(V600E) CRC and suggest combinatorial approaches to improve outcomes in this poor prognosis subset of patients.

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