Molecular Markers and Targets in Melanoma

Cells. 2021 Sep 5;10(9):2320. doi: 10.3390/cells10092320.


Melanoma develops as a result of several genetic alterations, with UV radiation often acting as a mutagenic risk factor. Deep knowledge of the molecular signaling pathways of different types of melanoma allows better characterization and provides tools for the development of therapies based on the intervention of signals promoted by these cascades. The latest World Health Organization classification acknowledged the specific genetic drivers leading to melanoma and classifies melanocytic lesions into nine distinct categories according to the associate cumulative sun damage (CSD), which correlates with the molecular alterations of tumors. The largest groups are melanomas associated with low-CSD or superficial spreading melanomas, characterized by frequent presentation of the BRAFV600 mutation. High-CSD melanomas include lentigo maligna type and desmoplastic melanomas, which often have a high mutation burden and can harbor NRAS, BRAFnon-V600E, or NF1 mutations. Non-CSD-associated melanomas encompass acral and mucosal melanomas that usually do not show BRAF, NRAS, or NF1 mutations (triple wild-type), but in a subset may have KIT or SF3B1 mutations. To improve survival, these driver alterations can be treated with targeted therapy achieving significant antitumor activity. In recent years, relevant improvement in the prognosis and survival of patients with melanoma has been achieved, since the introduction of BRAF/MEK tyrosine kinase inhibitors and immune checkpoint inhibitors. In this review, we describe the current knowledge of molecular pathways and discuss current and potential therapeutic targets in melanoma, focusing on their clinical relevance of development.

Keywords: BRAF; KIT; NRAS; NTRK; markers; melanoma; molecular pathways; target therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Melanoma / genetics
  • Melanoma / metabolism
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Skin Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Skin Neoplasms / genetics
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors