Vemurafenib (PLX4032), an inhibitor of BRAF(V600E), has demonstrated significant clinical anti-melanoma effects. However, the majority of treated patients develop resistance, due to a variety of molecular mechanisms including MAPK reactivation through MEK. The induction of a cancer cell death modality associated with danger-signalling resulting in surface mobilization of crucial damage-associated-molecular-patterns (DAMPs), e.g. calreticulin (CRT) and heat shock protein-90 (HSP90), from dying cells, is emerging to be crucial for therapeutic success. Both cell death and danger-signalling are modulated by autophagy, a key adaptation mechanism stimulated during melanoma progression. However, whether melanoma cell death induced by MAPK inhibition is associated with danger-signalling, and the reliance of these mechanisms on autophagy, has not yet been scrutinized. Using a panel of isogenic PLX4032-sensitive and resistant melanoma cell lines we show that PLX4032-induced caspase-dependent cell death and DAMPs exposure in the drug-sensitive cells, but failed to do so in the drug-resistant cells, displaying heightened MEK activation. MEK inhibitor, U0126, treatment sensitized PLX4032-resistant cells to death and re-established their danger-signalling capacity. Only melanoma cells exposing death-induced danger-signals were phagocytosed and induced DC maturation. Although the PLX4032-resistant melanoma cells displayed higher basal and drug-induced autophagy, compromising autophagy, pharmacologically or by ATG5 knockdown, was insufficient to re-establish their PLX4032 sensitivity. Interestingly, autophagy abrogation was particularly efficacious in boosting cell death and ecto-CRT/ecto-HSP90 in PLX4032-resistant cells upon blockage of MEK hyper-activation by U0126. Thus combination of MEK inhibitors with autophagy blockers may represent a novel treatment regime to increase both cell death and danger-signalling in Vemurafenib-resistant metastatic melanoma.
Keywords: Autophagy; Cell death; Danger-signalling; Melanoma; PLX4032.
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