Intrinsic resistance to the MEK1/2 inhibitor AZD6244 (ARRY-142886) is associated with weak ERK1/2 signalling and/or strong PI3K signalling in colorectal cancer cell lines

Int J Cancer. 2009 Nov 15;125(10):2332-41. doi: 10.1002/ijc.24604.


Mutations in KRAS or BRAF frequently manifest in constitutive activation of the MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signalling pathway. The MEK1/2-selective inhibitor, AZD6244 (ARRY-142886), blocks ERK1/2 activation and is currently undergoing clinical evaluation. Tumour cells can vary markedly in their response to MAPK or ERK kinase (MEK) inhibitors, and the presence of a BRAF mutation is thought to predict sensitivity, with the RAS mutations being associated with intrinsic resistance. We analysed cell proliferation in a panel of 19 colorectal cancer cell lines and found no simple correlation between BRAF or KRAS mutation and sensitivity to AZD6244, though cells that harbour neither mutation tended to be resistant. Cells that were sensitive arrested in G(1) and/or underwent apoptosis and the presence of BRAF or KRAS mutation was not sufficient to predict either fate. Cell lines that were resistant to AZD6244 exhibited low or no ERK1/2 activation or exhibited coincident activation of ERK1/2 and protein kinase B (PKB), the latter indicative of activation of the PI3K pathway. In cell lines with coincident ERK1/2 and PKB activation, sensitivity to AZD6244 could be re-imposed by any of the 3 distinct PI3K/mTOR inhibitors. We conclude that AZD6244 is effective in colorectal cancer cell lines with BRAF or KRAS mutations. Sensitivity to MEK1/2 inhibition correlates with a biochemical signature; those cells with high ERK1/2 activity (whether mutant for BRAF or KRAS) evolve a dependency upon that pathway and tend to be sensitive to AZD6244 but this can be offset by high PI3K-dependent signalling. This may have implications for the use of MEK inhibitors in combination with PI3K inhibitors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Benzimidazoles / pharmacology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1 / metabolism
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 2 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 2 / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / metabolism*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / metabolism*
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)
  • RNA, Small Interfering / pharmacology
  • ras Proteins / genetics


  • AZD 6244
  • Benzimidazoles
  • KRAS protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • MAP2K2 protein, human
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 1
  • MAP Kinase Kinase 2
  • MAP2K1 protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)
  • ras Proteins