JNK2 Is Required for the Tumorigenic Properties of Melanoma Cells

ACS Chem Biol. 2019 Jul 19;14(7):1426-1435. doi: 10.1021/acschembio.9b00083. Epub 2019 May 17.


Overexpression and activation of c-Jun N-terminal kinases (JNKs) have been observed in multiple cancer cell lines and tumor samples. Various JNK isoforms have been reported to promote lung and liver cancer, as well as keratinocyte transformation, suggesting an important role of JNK signaling in promoting tumor development. However, there are three JNK isoforms, and it is unclear how each individual isoform, especially the ubiquitously expressed JNK1 and JNK2, functions in melanoma. Our previous study found that C116S mutations in both JNK1 and JNK2 rendered them insensitive to the covalent pan-JNK inhibitor JNK-IN-8 while retaining kinase activity. To delineate the specific roles of JNK1 and JNK2 in melanoma cell proliferation and invasiveness, we expressed the wild type (WT) and C116S mutants in melanoma cell lines and used JNK-IN-8 to enable chemical-genetic dissection of JNK1 and JNK2 activity. We found that the JNK2C116S allele consistently enhanced colony proliferation and cell invasiveness in the presence of JNK-IN-8. When cells individually expressing WT or C116S JNK1/2 were subcutaneously implanted into immunodeficient mice, we again found that bypass of JNK-IN-8-mediated inhibition of JNK signaling by expression of JNK2C116S specifically resulted in enhanced tumor growth in vivo. In addition, we observed a high level of JNK pathway activation in some human BRAF inhibitor (BRAFi) resistant melanoma cell lines relative to their BRAFi sensitive isogenic counterparts. JNK-IN-8 significantly enhanced the response to dabrafenib in resistant cells overexpressing JNK1WT, JNK2WT, and JNK1C116S but had no effect on cells expressing JNK2C116S, suggesting that JNK2 signaling is also crucial for BRAFi resistance in a subset of melanomas. Collectively, our data show that JNK2 activity is specifically required for melanoma cell proliferation, invasiveness, and BRAFi resistance and that this activity is most important in the context of JNK1 suppression, thus providing a compelling rationale for the development of JNK2 selective inhibitors as a potential therapy for the treatment of melanoma.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Carcinogenesis / metabolism*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 9 / genetics
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 9 / metabolism*
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism*


  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 9