Mer or Axl receptor tyrosine kinase inhibition promotes apoptosis, blocks growth and enhances chemosensitivity of human non-small cell lung cancer

Oncogene. 2013 Jul 18;32(29):3420-31. doi: 10.1038/onc.2012.355. Epub 2012 Aug 13.

Abstract

Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is a prevalent and devastating disease that claims more lives than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers combined. Current research suggests that standard chemotherapy regimens have been optimized to maximal efficiency. Promising new treatment strategies involve novel agents targeting molecular aberrations present in subsets of NSCLC. We evaluated 88 human NSCLC tumors of diverse histology and identified Mer and Axl as receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) overexpressed in 69% and 93%, respectively, of tumors relative to surrounding normal lung tissue. Mer and Axl were also frequently overexpressed and activated in NSCLC cell lines. Ligand-dependent Mer or Axl activation stimulated MAPK, AKT and FAK signaling pathways indicating roles for these RTKs in multiple oncogenic processes. In addition, we identified a novel pro-survival pathway-involving AKT, CREB, Bcl-xL, survivin, and Bcl-2-downstream of Mer, which is differentially modulated by Axl signaling. We demonstrated that short hairpin RNA (shRNA) knockdown of Mer or Axl significantly reduced NSCLC colony formation and growth of subcutaneous xenografts in nude mice. Mer or Axl knockdown also improved in vitro NSCLC sensitivity to chemotherapeutic agents by promoting apoptosis. When comparing the effects of Mer and Axl knockdown, Mer inhibition exhibited more complete blockade of tumor growth while Axl knockdown more robustly improved chemosensitivity. These results indicate that Mer and Axl have complementary and overlapping roles in NSCLC and suggest that treatment strategies targeting both RTKs may be more effective than singly-targeted agents. Our findings validate Mer and Axl as potential therapeutic targets in NSCLC and provide justification for development of novel therapeutic compounds that selectively inhibit Mer and/or Axl.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Tissue Array Analysis
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase

Substances

  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • MERTK protein, human
  • Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • axl receptor tyrosine kinase
  • c-Mer Tyrosine Kinase