Integrated Genomics Identifies miR-181/TFAM Pathway as a Critical Driver of Drug Resistance in Melanoma

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Feb 11;22(4):1801. doi: 10.3390/ijms22041801.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are attractive therapeutic targets and promising candidates as molecular biomarkers for various therapy-resistant tumors. However, the association between miRNAs and drug resistance in melanoma remains to be elucidated. We used an integrative genomic analysis to comprehensively study the miRNA expression profiles of drug-resistant melanoma patients and cell lines. MicroRNA-181a and -181b (miR181a/b) were identified as the most significantly down-regulated miRNAs in resistant melanoma patients and cell lines. Re-establishment of miR-181a/b expression reverses the resistance of melanoma cells to the BRAF inhibitor dabrafenib. Introduction of miR-181 mimics markedly decreases the expression of TFAM in A375 melanoma cells resistant to BRAF inhibitors. Furthermore, melanoma growth was inhibited in A375 and M14 resistant melanoma cells transfected with miR-181a/b mimics, while miR-181a/b depletion enhanced resistance in sensitive cell lines. Collectively, our study demonstrated that miR-181a/b could reverse the resistance to BRAF inhibitors in dabrafenib resistant melanoma cell lines. In addition, miR-181a and -181b are strongly down-regulated in tumor samples from patients before and after the development of resistance to targeted therapies. Finally, melanoma tissues with high miR-181a and -181b expression presented favorable outcomes in terms of Progression Free Survival, suggesting that miR-181 is a clinically relevant candidate for therapeutic development or biomarker-based therapy selection.

Keywords: BRAF inhibitors; Dabrafenib; TFAM; biomarkers; cancer resistance; melanoma; miR-181; microRNA; mitochondria; target therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / metabolism*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • MicroRNAs / biosynthesis*
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / genetics
  • Neoplasm Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Neoplasm Proteins / genetics
  • RNA, Neoplasm / biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / biosynthesis*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • MIrn181 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • RNA, Neoplasm
  • TFAM protein, human
  • Transcription Factors