Overcoming MITF-conferred drug resistance through dual AURKA/MAPK targeting in human melanoma cells

Cell Death Dis. 2016 Mar 10;7(3):e2135. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2015.369.


MITF (microphthalmia-associated transcription factor) is a frequently amplified lineage-specific oncogene in human melanoma, whose role in intrinsic drug resistance has not been systematically investigated. Utilizing chemical inhibitors for major signaling pathways/cellular processes, we witness MITF as an elicitor of intrinsic drug resistance. To search kinase(s) targets able to bypass MITF-conferred drug resistance, we employed a multi-kinase inhibitor-directed chemical proteomics-based differential affinity screen in human melanocytes carrying ectopic MITF overexpression. A subsequent methodical interrogation informed mitotic Ser/Thr kinase Aurora Kinase A (AURKA) as a crucial regulator of melanoma cell proliferation and migration, independent of the underlying molecular alterations, including TP53 functional status and MITF levels. Crucially, assessing the efficacy of investigational AURKA inhibitor MLN8237, we pre-emptively witness the procurement of a molecular program consistent with acquired drug resistance. This involved induction of multiple MAPK (mitogen-activated protein kinase) signaling pathway components and their downstream proliferation effectors (Cyclin D1 and c-JUN) and apoptotic regulators (MITF and Bcl-2). A concomitant AURKA/BRAF and AURKA/MEK targeting overcame MAPK signaling activation-associated resistance signature in BRAF- and NRAS-mutated melanomas, respectively, and elicited heightened anti-proliferative activity and apoptotic cell death. These findings reveal a previously unreported MAPK signaling-mediated mechanism of immediate resistance to AURKA inhibitors. These findings could bear significant implications for the application and the success of anti-AURKA approaches that have already entered phase-II clinical trials for human melanoma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis*
  • Aurora Kinase A / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Aurora Kinase A / genetics
  • Aurora Kinase A / metabolism*
  • Azepines / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / genetics
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / drug therapy
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / metabolism*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor / genetics
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor / metabolism*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / genetics
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / metabolism
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Azepines
  • MITF protein, human
  • MLN 8237
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor
  • Pyrimidines
  • TP53 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • AURKA protein, human
  • Aurora Kinase A
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases
  • NRAS protein, human