Differential activity of MEK and ERK inhibitors in BRAF inhibitor resistant melanoma

Mol Oncol. 2014 May;8(3):544-54. doi: 10.1016/j.molonc.2014.01.003. Epub 2014 Jan 15.


Acquired resistance to BRAF inhibitors often involves MAPK re-activation, yet the MEK inhibitor trametinib showed minimal clinical activity in melanoma patients that had progressed on BRAF-inhibitor therapy. Selective ERK inhibitors have been proposed as alternative salvage therapies. We show that ERK inhibition is more potent than MEK inhibition at suppressing MAPK activity and inhibiting the proliferation of multiple BRAF inhibitor resistant melanoma cell models. Nevertheless, melanoma cells often failed to undergo apoptosis in response to ERK inhibition, because the relief of ERK-dependent negative feedback activated RAS and PI3K signalling. Consequently, the combination of ERK and PI3K/mTOR inhibition was effective at promoting cell death in all resistant melanoma cell models, and was substantially more potent than the MEK/PI3K/mTOR inhibitor combination. Our data indicate that a broader targeting strategy concurrently inhibiting ERK, rather than MEK, and PI3K/mTOR may circumvent BRAF inhibitor resistance, and should be considered during the clinical development of ERK inhibitors.

Keywords: Acquired resistance; BRAF inhibitors; ERK inhibitors; MEK inhibitors; Melanoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Melanoma / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Phosphoinositide-3 Kinase Inhibitors
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases