Purpose: c-Src inhibition in cancer cells leads to an abrogation of invasion but a variable effect on apoptosis. The pathways downstream of c-Src promoting survival are not well characterized. Because cancer therapy that both decreases invasion and induces significant apoptosis would be ideal, we sought to characterize the mechanisms of resistance to c-Src inhibition.
Experimental design: c-Src was inhibited in a panel of oral cancer cell lines and subsequent survival and signaling measured. The interactions between c-Src and c-Met were evaluated using immunoprecitation and an in vitro kinase assay. Cytotoxicity was measured and the Chou-Talalay combination index calculated. An orthotopic model of oral cancer was used to assess the effects of c-Met and c-Src inhibitors.
Results: Inhibition of c-Src resulted in c-Met inhibition in sensitive cells lines, but not in resistant cell lines. Isolated c-Met was a c-Src substrate in both sensitive and resistant cells, but there was no interaction of c-Src and c-Met in intact resistant cells. To examine the biological consequences of this mechanism, we demonstrated synergistic cytotoxicity, enhanced apoptosis, and decreased tumor size with the combination of c-Src and c-Met inhibitors.
Conclusions: Sustained c-Met activation can mediate resistance to c-Src inhibition. These data suggest that the differences between c-Met and c-Src signaling in sensitive and resistant cells are due to distinct factors promoting or inhibiting interactions, respectively, rather than to intrinsic structural changes in c-Src or c-Met. The synergistic cytotoxic effects of c-Src and c-Met inhibition may be important for the treatment of head and neck cancers.