Anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins govern cellular outcome following B-RAF(V600E) inhibition and can be targeted to reduce resistance

Oncogene. 2015 Feb 12;34(7):857-67. doi: 10.1038/onc.2014.21. Epub 2014 Mar 10.


In theory, pharmacological inhibition of oncogenic signaling is an effective strategy to halt cellular proliferation, induce apoptosis and eliminate cancer cells. In practice, drugs (for example, PLX-4032) that inhibit oncogenes like B-RAFV600E provide relatively short-term success in patients, owing to a combination of incomplete cellular responses and the development of resistance. To define the relationship between PLX-4032-induced responses and resistance, we interrogated the contributions of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins in determining the fate of B-RAFV600E-inhibited melanoma cells. Although PLX-4032 eliminated B-RAFV600E signaling leading to marked cell cycle arrest, only a fraction of cells eventually underwent apoptosis. These data proposed two hypotheses regarding B-RAFV600E inhibition: (1) only a few cells generate a pro-apoptotic signal, or (2) all the cells generate a pro-apoptotic signal but the majority silences this pathway to ensure survival. Indeed, the latter hypothesis is supported by our observations as the addition of ABT-737, an inhibitor to anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins, revealed massive apoptosis following PLX-4032 exposure. B-RAFV600E inhibition alone sensitized cells to the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis characterized by the rapid accumulation of BIM on the outer mitochondrial membrane, which could be functionally revealed by ABT-737 to promote apoptosis and loss of clonogenic survival. Furthermore, PLX-4032-resistant cells demonstrated collateral resistance to conventional chemotherapy, yet could be re-sensitized to PLX-4032 by BCL-2 family inhibition in vivo and conventional chemotherapies in vitro. Our data suggest that inhibiting anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins will enhance primary responses to PLX-4032, along with reducing the development of resistance to both targeted and conventional therapies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Biphenyl Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Humans
  • Indoles / pharmacology*
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / metabolism
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Mutation, Missense*
  • Nitrophenols / pharmacology*
  • Piperazines / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • Sulfonamides / pharmacology*
  • Vemurafenib


  • ABT-737
  • BCL2 protein, human
  • Biphenyl Compounds
  • Indoles
  • Nitrophenols
  • Piperazines
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Sulfonamides
  • Vemurafenib
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf