The role of phenotypic plasticity in the escape of cancer cells from targeted therapy

Biochem Pharmacol. 2016 Dec 15;122:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2016.06.014. Epub 2016 Jun 25.


Targeted therapy has proven to be beneficial at producing significant responses in patients with a wide variety of cancers. Despite initially impressive responses, most individuals ultimately fail these therapies and show signs of drug resistance. Very few patients are ever cured. Emerging evidence suggests that treatment of cancer cells with kinase inhibitors leads a minor population of cells to undergo a phenotypic switch to a more embryonic-like state. The adoption of this state, which is analogous to an epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition, is associated with drug resistance and increased tumor aggressiveness. In this commentary we will provide a comprehensive analysis of the mechanisms that underlie the embryonic reversion that occurs on targeted cancer therapy and will review potential novel therapeutic strategies designed to eradicate the escaping cells.

Keywords: BRAF; EGFR; EMT; Lung cancer; Melanoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use*
  • Drug Delivery Systems*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome