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eISSN: 1643-3750

The MEK1/2 Inhibitor AZD6244 Sensitizes BRAF-Mutant Thyroid Cancer to Vemurafenib

Hao Song, Jinna Zhang, Liang Ning, Honglai Zhang, Dong Chen, Xuelong Jiao, Kejun Zhang

(Department of Radiotherapy, The Affiliated Hospital of Qingdao University, Qingdao, Shandong, China (mainland))

Med Sci Monit 2018; 24:3002-3010

DOI: 10.12659/MSM.910084

Published: 2018-05-08

BACKGROUND: BRAFV600E mutation occurs in approximately 45% of papillary thyroid cancer (PTC) cases, and 25% of anaplastic thyroid cancer (ATC) cases. Vemurafenib/PLX4032, a selective BRAF inhibitor, suppresses extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (MEK/ERK1/2) signaling and shows beneficial effects in patients with metastatic melanoma harboring the BRAFV600E mutation. However, the response to vemurafenib is limited in BRAF-mutant thyroid cancer. The present study evaluated the effect of vemurafenib in combination with the selective MEK1/2 inhibitor AZD6244 on cell survival and explored the mechanism underlying the combined effect of vemurafenib and AZD6244 on thyroid cancer cells harboring BRAFV600E.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: Thyroid cancer 8505C and BCPAP cells harboring the BRAFV600E mutation were exposed to vemurafenib (0.01, 0.1, and 1 µM) and AZD6244 (0.01, 0.1, and 1 µM) alone or in the indicated combinations for the indicated times. Cell viability was detected by the MTT assay. Cell cycle distribution and induction of apoptosis were detected by flow cytometry. The expression of cyclin D1, P27, (P)-ERK1/2 was evaluated by Western blotting. The effect of vemurafenib or AZD6244 or their combination on the growth of 8505C cells was examined in orthotopic xenograft mouse models in vivo.
RESULTS: Vemurafenib alone did not increase cell apoptosis, whereas it decreased cell viability by promoting cell cycle arrest in BCPAP and 8505C cells. AZD6244 alone increased cell apoptosis by inducing cell cycle arrest in BCPAP and 8505C cells. Combination treatment with AZD6244 and vemurafenib significantly decreased cell viability and increased apoptosis in both BCPAP and 8505C cells compared with the effects of each drug alone. AZD6244 alone abolished phospho-ERK1/2 (pERK1/2) expression at 48 h, whereas vemurafenib alone downregulated pERK1/2 at 4–6 h, with rapid recovery of expression, reaching the highest level at 24–48 h. Combined treatment for 48 h completely inhibited pERK1/2 expression. Combination treatment with vemurafenib and AZD6244 inhibited cell growth and induced apoptosis by causing cell-cycle arrest, with the corresponding changes in the expression of the cell cycle regulators p27Kip1 and cyclin D1. Co-administration of vemurafenib and AZD6244 in vivo had a significant synergistic antitumor effect in a nude mouse model.
CONCLUSIONS: Vemurafenib activated pERK1/2 and induced vemurafenib resistance in thyroid cancer cells. Combination treatment with vemurafenib and AZD6244 inhibited ERK signaling and caused cell cycle arrest, resulting in cell growth inhibition. Combination treatment in patients with thyroid cancer harboring the BRAFV600E mutation may overcome vemurafenib resistance and enhance the therapeutic effect.

Keywords: MAP Kinase Signaling System, Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf, Thyroid Neoplasms