Integrated molecular characterisation of the MAPK pathways in human cancers reveals pharmacologically vulnerable mutations and gene dependencies

Commun Biol. 2021 Jan 4;4(1):9. doi: 10.1038/s42003-020-01552-6.


The mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways are crucial regulators of the cellular processes that fuel the malignant transformation of normal cells. The molecular aberrations which lead to cancer involve mutations in, and transcription variations of, various MAPK pathway genes. Here, we examine the genome sequences of 40,848 patient-derived tumours representing 101 distinct human cancers to identify cancer-associated mutations in MAPK signalling pathway genes. We show that patients with tumours that have mutations within genes of the ERK-1/2 pathway, the p38 pathways, or multiple MAPK pathway modules, tend to have worse disease outcomes than patients with tumours that have no mutations within the MAPK pathways genes. Furthermore, by integrating information extracted from various large-scale molecular datasets, we expose the relationship between the fitness of cancer cells after CRISPR mediated gene knockout of MAPK pathway genes, and their dose-responses to MAPK pathway inhibitors. Besides providing new insights into MAPK pathways, we unearth vulnerabilities in specific pathway genes that are reflected in the re sponses of cancer cells to MAPK targeting drugs: a revelation with great potential for guiding the development of innovative therapies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • A549 Cells
  • Benzamides / pharmacology
  • Benzamides / therapeutic use
  • Benzimidazoles / pharmacology
  • Benzimidazoles / therapeutic use
  • Cell Survival
  • Diphenylamine / analogs & derivatives
  • Diphenylamine / pharmacology
  • Diphenylamine / therapeutic use
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / genetics*
  • MCF-7 Cells
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects


  • AZD 6244
  • Benzamides
  • Benzimidazoles
  • mirdametinib
  • Diphenylamine