KRAS is frequently mutated in lung cancer. Whereas MAPK is a well-known effector pathway of KRAS, blocking this pathway with clinically available MAPK inhibitors is relatively ineffective. Here, we report that epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition rewires the expression of receptor tyrosine kinases, leading to differential feedback activation of the MAPK pathway following MEK inhibition. In epithelial-like KRAS-mutant lung cancers, this feedback was attributed to ERBB3-mediated activation of MEK and AKT. In contrast, in mesenchymal-like KRAS-mutant lung cancers, FGFR1 was dominantly expressed but suppressed by the negative regulator Sprouty proteins; MEK inhibition led to repression of SPRY4 and subsequent FGFR1-mediated reactivation of MEK and AKT. Therapeutically, the combination of a MEK inhibitor (MEKi) and an FGFR inhibitor (FGFRi) induced cell death in vitro and tumor regressions in vivo These data establish the rationale and a therapeutic approach to treat mesenchymal-like KRAS-mutant lung cancers effectively with clinically available FGFR1 and MAPK inhibitors.
Significance: Adaptive resistance to MEKi is driven by receptor tyrosine kinases specific to the differentiation state of the KRAS-mutant non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). In mesenchymal-like KRAS-mutant NSCLC, FGFR1 is highly expressed, and MEK inhibition relieves feedback suppression of FGFR1, resulting in reactivation of ERK; suppression of ERK by MEKi/FGFRi combination results in tumor shrinkage. Cancer Discov; 6(7); 754-69. ©2016 AACR.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 681.
©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.