To study the molecular mechanism regulating sensitivity to MEK inhibition in pancreatic cancer cell lines. A growth inhibition assay determined sensitivity to MEK162 in a panel of 29 pancreatic cancer cell lines. For the same panel, KRAS mutational status and copy-number variation (CNV) was determine using PCR, array CGH and FISH. Two sensitive and two resistant cell lines were further interrogated for difference in baseline and MEK162-induced gene expression, as well as signal transduction using microarray and western blotting. Cell cycle and apoptosis analysis was measured by flow cytometry. We report a strong correlation between both specific KRAS mutational subtype and CNV, and sensitivity to MEK inhibition. Cell lines with a KRAS (V12) mutation and KRAS gains or loss (n=7) are ∼10 times more resistant than those having neither a KRAS (V12) mutation nor KRAS CNV (n=14). Significant differences in baseline and MEK162-induced gene expression exist between the sensitive and resistant lines, especially in genes involved in RAS, EGF receptor and PI3K pathways. This was further supported by difference in signal transduction. MEK 162 blocked ERK1/2, as well as inhibited PI3K and S6 and increased p27KIP1 levels in the sensitive lines. Given the potency of MEK162, it may be a promising new therapy for patients with pancreatic cancer and KRAS mutational subtypes, and CNV may serve as important biomarkers for selecting patients that benefit from MEK-targeting based on these preclinical data.
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