MAPK Pathway Suppression Unmasks Latent DNA Repair Defects and Confers a Chemical Synthetic Vulnerability in BRAF-, NRAS-, and NF1-Mutant Melanomas

Cancer Discov. 2019 Apr;9(4):526-545. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-18-0879. Epub 2019 Feb 1.


Although the majority of BRAF-mutant melanomas respond to BRAF/MEK inhibitors, these agents are not typically curative. Moreover, they are largely ineffective in NRAS- and NF1-mutant tumors. Here we report that genetic and chemical suppression of HDAC3 potently cooperates with MAPK pathway inhibitors in all three RAS pathway-driven tumors. Specifically, we show that entinostat dramatically enhances tumor regression when combined with BRAF/MEK inhibitors, in both models that are sensitive or relatively resistant to these agents. Interestingly, MGMT expression predicts responsiveness and marks tumors with latent defects in DNA repair. BRAF/MEK inhibitors enhance these defects by suppressing homologous recombination genes, inducing a BRCA-like state; however, addition of entinostat triggers the concomitant suppression of nonhomologous end-joining genes, resulting in a chemical synthetic lethality caused by excessive DNA damage. Together, these studies identify melanomas with latent DNA repair defects, describe a promising drug combination that capitalizes on these defects, and reveal a tractable therapeutic biomarker. SIGNIFICANCE: BRAF/MEK inhibitors are not typically curative in BRAF-mutant melanomas and are ineffective in NRAS- and NF1-mutant tumors. We show that HDAC inhibitors dramatically enhance the efficacy of BRAF/MEK inhibitors in sensitive and insensitive RAS pathway-driven melanomas by coordinately suppressing two DNA repair pathways, and identify a clinical biomarker that predicts responsiveness.See related commentary by Lombard et al., p. 469.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 453.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • DNA Repair / genetics*
  • Genes, ras / genetics*
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases / genetics*
  • Melanoma / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinases