Specificity of Phosphorylation Responses to Mitogen Activated Protein (MAP) Kinase Pathway Inhibitors in Melanoma Cells

Mol Cell Proteomics. 2018 Apr;17(4):550-564. doi: 10.1074/mcp.RA117.000335. Epub 2017 Dec 18.


The BRAF-MKK1/2-ERK1/2 pathway is constitutively activated in response to oncogenic mutations of BRAF in many cancer types, including melanoma. Although small molecules that inhibit oncogenic BRAF and MAP kinase kinase (MKK)1/2 have been successful in clinical settings, resistance invariably develops. High affinity inhibitors of ERK1/2 have been shown in preclinical studies to bypass the resistance of melanoma and colon cancer cells to BRAF and MKK1/2 inhibitors, and are thus promising additions to current treatment protocols. But still unknown is how molecular responses to ERK1/2 inhibitors compare with inhibitors currently in clinical use. Here, we employ quantitative phosphoproteomics to evaluate changes in phosphorylation in response to the ERK inhibitors, SCH772984 and GDC0994, and compare these to the clinically used MKK1/2 inhibitor, trametinib. Combined with previous studies measuring phosphoproteomic responses to the MKK1/2 inhibitor, selumetinib, and the BRAF inhibitor, vemurafenib, the outcomes reveal key insights into pathway organization, phosphorylation specificity and off-target effects of these inhibitors. The results demonstrate linearity in signaling from BRAF to MKK1/2 and from MKK1/2 to ERK1/2. They identify likely targets of direct phosphorylation by ERK1/2, as well as inhibitor off-targets, including an off-target regulation of the p38α mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway by the MKK1/2 inhibitor, trametinib, at concentrations used in the literature but higher than in vivo drug concentrations. In addition, several known phosphorylation targets of ERK1/2 are insensitive to MKK or ERK inhibitors, revealing variability in canonical pathway responses between different cell systems. By comparing multiple inhibitors targeted to multiple tiers of protein kinases in the MAPK pathway, we gain insight into regulation and new targets of the oncogenic BRAF driver pathway in cancer cells, and a useful approach for evaluating the specificity of drugs and drug candidates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Indazoles / pharmacology*
  • Melanoma / metabolism*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects*
  • Piperazines / pharmacology*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Pyridones / pharmacology*
  • Pyrimidinones / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Indazoles
  • Piperazines
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyridones
  • Pyrimidinones
  • SCH772984
  • trametinib
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases