Loss of FBXW7-mediated degradation of BRAF elicits resistance to BET inhibitors in adult T cell leukemia cells

Mol Cancer. 2020 Sep 9;19(1):139. doi: 10.1186/s12943-020-01254-x.


Background: Human T cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1)-associated adult T cell leukemia (ATL) has a very poor prognosis with a median survival of 8 months and a 4-year overall survival of 11% for acute ATL. Present treatment options are limited and there is no curative therapy for ATL. Ubiquitin ligase FBXW7 is commonly mutated or functionally inactivated in human cancers. Consistent with the notion that FBXW7 controls the degradation of many oncoproteins, loss of FBXW7 has been linked to increased drug resistance or sensitivity in cancer cells.

Method: In this study, we have characterized FBXW7 mutants previously identified in HTLV-I-infected ATL patient samples. TET-inducible ATL cells carrying wild type or mutated FBXW7 were analyzed for target degradation and for drug sensitivity.

Results: Our results demonstrate that mutations in FBXW7 can selectively disrupt ubiquitination and proteasome degradation of target proteins: c-MYC, cyclin E and MCL1. Both c-MYC and MYCN were highly expressed in uncultured ATL patient's samples and ATL-derived cell lines; and ATL cells demonstrated sensitivity to BET inhibitors in vitro and in vivo. High-throughput reverse phase protein array revealed BRAF as a novel target of FBXW7 and further experiments showed that mutations in FBXW7 preventing degradation of BRAF provided resistance to BET inhibitors. In contrast to R465, hot spot FBXW7 mutations at R505C retained degradation of BRAF but not NOTCH1, c-MYC, cyclin E, or MCL1. Finally, a combination therapy using BET inhibitors along with a BRAF or an ERK inhibitor prevented tumor cell resistance and growth.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that FBXW7 status may play an important role in drug therapy resistance of cancer cells. Genetic characterization of FBXW7 may be one factor included in future personalized cancer treatment identification.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Azepines / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cyclin E / genetics
  • Doxycycline / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics*
  • F-Box-WD Repeat-Containing Protein 7 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • F-Box-WD Repeat-Containing Protein 7 / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Heterografts
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus 1 / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell / drug therapy
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell / genetics*
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell / pathology
  • Leukemia-Lymphoma, Adult T-Cell / virology
  • Mice
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein / genetics
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / drug effects
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / genetics
  • Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Proteolysis / drug effects
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / genetics
  • Triazoles / pharmacology


  • (+)-JQ1 compound
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Azepines
  • Cyclin E
  • F-Box-WD Repeat-Containing Protein 7
  • FBXW7 protein, human
  • MCL1 protein, human
  • MYC protein, human
  • Myeloid Cell Leukemia Sequence 1 Protein
  • Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Triazoles
  • bromodomain and extra-terminal domain protein, human
  • BRAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Doxycycline