Over half of BRAFV600E melanomas display intrinsic resistance to BRAF inhibitors, in part due to adaptive signaling responses. In this communication we ask whether BRAFV600E melanomas share common adaptive responses to BRAF inhibition that can provide clinically relevant targets for drug combinations. We screened a panel of 12 treatment-naïve BRAFV600E melanoma cell lines with MAP Kinase pathway inhibitors in pairwise combination with 58 signaling inhibitors, assaying for synergistic cytotoxicity. We found enormous diversity in the drug combinations that showed synergy, with no two cell lines having an identical profile. Although the 6 lines most resistant to BRAF inhibition showed synergistic benefit from combination with lapatinib, the signaling mechanisms by which this combination generated synergistic cytotoxicity differed between the cell lines. We conclude that adaptive responses to inhibition of the primary oncogenic driver (BRAFV600E) are determined not only by the primary oncogenic driver but also by diverse secondary genetic and epigenetic changes ("back-seat drivers") and hence optimal drug combinations will be variable. Because upregulation of receptor tyrosine kinases is a major source of drug resistance arising from diverse adaptive responses, we propose that inhibitors of these receptors may have substantial clinical utility in combination with inhibitors of the MAP Kinase pathway.
Keywords: BRAF; MAP Kinase; cell signaling; melanoma; therapeutic resistance.