MEK inhibition enhances the response to tyrosine kinase inhibitors in acute myeloid leukemia

Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 9;9(1):18630. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-54901-9.


FMS-like tyrosine kinase 3 (FLT3) is a key driver of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Several tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) targeting FLT3 have been evaluated clinically, but their effects are limited when used in monotherapy due to the emergence of drug-resistance. Thus, a better understanding of drug-resistance pathways could be a good strategy to explore and evaluate new combinational therapies for AML. Here, we used phosphoproteomics to identify differentially-phosphorylated proteins in patients with AML and TKI resistance. We then studied resistance mechanisms in vitro and evaluated the efficacy and safety of rational combinational therapy in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo in mice. Proteomic and immunohistochemical studies showed the sustained activation of ERK1/2 in bone marrow samples of patients with AML after developing resistance to FLT3 inhibitors, which was identified as a common resistance pathway. We examined the concomitant inhibition of MEK-ERK1/2 and FLT3 as a strategy to overcome drug-resistance, finding that the MEK inhibitor trametinib remained potent in TKI-resistant cells and exerted strong synergy when combined with the TKI midostaurin in cells with mutated and wild-type FLT3. Importantly, this combination was not toxic to CD34+ cells from healthy donors, but produced survival improvements in vivo when compared with single therapy groups. Thus, our data point to trametinib plus midostaurin as a potentially beneficial therapy in patients with AML.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD34 / genetics
  • Bone Marrow Cells / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Drug Synergism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / drug therapy*
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / genetics
  • Leukemia, Myeloid, Acute / pathology
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinase 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinase 1 / genetics
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / administration & dosage*
  • Pyridones / administration & dosage*
  • Pyrimidinones / administration & dosage*
  • Staurosporine / administration & dosage
  • Staurosporine / analogs & derivatives*
  • fms-Like Tyrosine Kinase 3 / genetics*


  • Antigens, CD34
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyridones
  • Pyrimidinones
  • trametinib
  • FLT3 protein, human
  • fms-Like Tyrosine Kinase 3
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinase 1
  • Staurosporine
  • midostaurin