Context: Sunitinib is currently being evaluated in advanced human thyroid carcinomas, based on the rationale that the vascular endothelial growth factor and platelet-derived growth factor receptors and the RET/PTC rearrangement are valuable targets for the treatment of this malignancy. However, criteria for selecting thyroid tumors that may benefit from sunitinib are lacking.
Design: The effect of activating somatic mutations in the KRAS and BRAF genes on the responsiveness to sunitinib was evaluated in a panel of thyroid cancer cell lines harboring wild-type KRAS and BRAF genes, the RET/PTC1 rearrangement, the G12R KRAS, or the V600E BRAF mutation.
Results: Sunitinib was found to selectively inhibit cell proliferation, induce cell accumulation in the G0-G1 phase, and inhibit the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 in both KRAS/BRAF wild-type thyroid cancer cells and in tumor cells harboring the RET/PTC rearrangement, whereas it was completely ineffective in KRAS- or BRAF-mutated thyroid carcinoma cells. This differential antitumor activity of sunitinib did not correlate with the expression profile of the vascular endothelial growth factor receptors 1, 2, and 3, platelet-derived growth factor receptor-α and cKIT genes. Of note, the constitutive activation of RAS/RAF/ERK signaling in KRAS/BRAF wild-type cells by transfection of the R12 HRAS or V600E BRAF mutants or stimulation with epithelial growth factor resulted in the loss of responsiveness to sunitinib, whereas pharmacological inhibition of MAPK kinase activity resulted in the resensitization of KRAS- or BRAF-mutated cells to the multikinase inhibitor.
Conclusions: The constitutive activation of the RAS/RAF/ERK pathway may favor resistance to sunitinib in thyroid carcinoma cells.