Inhibiting BRAF Oncogene-Mediated Radioresistance Effectively Radiosensitizes BRAFV600E-Mutant Thyroid Cancer Cells by Constraining DNA Double-Strand Break Repair

Clin Cancer Res. 2019 Aug 1;25(15):4749-4760. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-18-3625. Epub 2019 May 16.


Purpose: Activating BRAF mutations, most commonly BRAFV600E, are a major oncogenic driver of many cancers. We explored whether BRAFV600E promotes radiation resistance and whether selectively targeting BRAFV600E with a BRAF inhibitor (vemurafenib, BRAFi) sensitizes BRAFV600E thyroid cancer cells to radiotherapy.

Experimental design: Immunoblotting, neutral comet, immunocytochemistry, functional reporter, and clonogenic assays were used to analyze the outcome and molecular characteristics following radiotherapy with or without BRAFV600E or vemurafenib in thyroid cancer cells.

Results: BRAFV600E thyroid cancer cell lines were associated with resistance to ionizing radiation (IR), and expression of BRAFV600E into wild-type BRAF thyroid cancer cells led to IR resistance. BRAFi inhibited ERK signaling in BRAFV600E mutants, but not BRAF wild-type thyroid cancer cell lines. BRAFi selectively radiosensitized and delayed resolution of IR-induced γH2AX nuclear foci in BRAFV600E cells. Moreover, BRAFi impaired global DNA repair and altered the resolution of 53BP1 and RAD51 nuclear foci in BRAFV600E cells following IR. BRAFV600E mutants displayed enhanced nonhomologous end-joining (NHEJ) repair activity, which was abolished by BRAFi. Intriguingly, BRAFV600E mutation led to upregulation of XLF, a component of NHEJ, which was prevented by BRAFi. Importantly, BRAFi in combination with radiotherapy resulted in marked and sustained tumor regression of BRAFV600E thyroid tumor xenografts.

Conclusions: BRAFV600E mutation promotes NHEJ activity leading to radioresistance and BRAFi selectively radiosensitizes BRAFV600E thyroid cancer cells through inhibiting NHEJ. Our findings suggest that combining BRAFi and radiation may improve the therapeutic outcome of patients with BRAFV600E-mutant thyroid cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded / radiation effects*
  • DNA Repair
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics*
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects*
  • Radiation Tolerance / genetics
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents / pharmacology*
  • Radiotherapy / methods
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Vemurafenib / pharmacology*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents
  • Vemurafenib
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf