Background: The validation of KRAS mutations as a negative marker of response to anti-epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) antibodies has meant a seminal advance towards treatment individualisation of colorectal cancer (CRC) patients. However, as a KRAS wild-type status does not guarantee a response to anti-EGFR antibodies, a current challenge is the identification of other biomarkers of response. On the basis of pre-clinical evidence, we hypothesised that mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase-1 (MKP-1), a phosphatase that inactivates MAPKs, could be a mediator of resistance to anti-EGFR antibodies.
Methods: Tumour specimens from 48 metastatic CRC patients treated with cetuximab-based chemotherapy were evaluated for KRAS and BRAF mutational status and MKP-1 expression as assessed by immunohistochemistry.
Results: As expected, clinical benefit was confined to wild-type KRAS and BRAF patients. Mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase-1 was overexpressed in 16 patients (33%) and was not associated with patient baseline clinicopathological characteristics and KRAS mutational status. All patients with BRAF mutations (n=3) had MKP-1 overexpression. Among KRAS wild-type patients, MKP-1 overexpressors had a 7% response rate (RR), whereas patients not overexpressing MKP-1 had a 44% RR (P=0.03). Moreover, median time to progression was significantly longer in MKP-1 non-overexpressing patients (32 vs 13 weeks, P=0.009).
Conclusion: These results support the concept of MKP-1 as a promising negative marker of response to cetuximab-based treatment in CRC patients with wild-type KRAS.