Cell death and differentiation

Hepatocyte growth factor renders BRAF mutant human melanoma cell lines resistant to PLX4032 by downregulating the pro-apoptotic BH3-only proteins PUMA and BIM.

PMID 27689874


A large proportion of melanomas harbour the activating BRAF(V600E) mutation that renders these cells dependent on MAPK signalling for their survival. Although the highly specific and clinically approved BRAF(V600E) kinase inhibitor, PLX4032, induces apoptosis of melanoma cells bearing this mutation, the underlying molecular mechanisms are not fully understood. Here, we reveal that PLX4032-induced apoptosis depends on the induction of the pro-apoptotic BH3-only protein PUMA with a minor contribution of its relative BIM. Apoptosis could be significantly augmented when PLX4032 was combined with an inhibitor of the pro-survival protein BCL-XL, whereas neutralization of the pro-survival family member BCL-2 caused no additional cell death. Although the initial response to PLX4032 in melanoma patients is very potent, resistance to the drug eventually develops and relapse occurs. Several factors can cause melanoma cells to develop resistance to PLX4032; one of them is the activation of the receptor tyrosine kinase cMET on melanoma cells by its ligand, hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), provided by the tumour microenvironment or the cancer cells themselves. We found that HGF mediates resistance of cMET-expressing BRAF mutant melanoma cells to PLX4032-induced apoptosis through downregulation of PUMA and BIM rather than by increasing the expression of pro-survival BCL-2-like proteins. These results suggest that resistance to PLX4032 may be overcome by specifically increasing the levels of PUMA and BIM in melanoma cells through alternative signalling cascades or by blocking pro-survival BCL-2 family members with suitable BH3 mimetic compounds.