Dynamic transcriptome analysis reveals signatures of paradoxical effect of vemurafenib on human dermal fibroblasts

Cell Commun Signal. 2021 Dec 20;19(1):123. doi: 10.1186/s12964-021-00801-3.


Background: Vemurafenib (PLX4032) is one of the most frequently used treatments for late-stage melanoma patients with the BRAFV600E mutation; however, acquired resistance to the drug poses as a major challenge. It remains to be determined whether off-target effects of vemurafenib on normal stroma components could reshape the tumor microenvironment in a way that contributes to cancer progression and drug resistance.

Methods: By using temporally-resolved RNA- and ATAC-seq, we studied the early molecular changes induced by vemurafenib in human dermal fibroblast (HDF), a main stromal component in melanoma and other tumors with high prevalence of BRAFV600 mutations.

Results: Transcriptomics analyses revealed a stepwise up-regulation of proliferation signatures, together with a down-regulation of autophagy and proteolytic processes. The gene expression changes in HDF strongly correlated in an inverse way with those in BRAFV600E mutant malignant melanoma (MaMel) cell lines, consistent with the observation of a paradoxical effect of vemurafenib, leading to hyperphosphorylation of MEK1/2 and ERK1/2. The transcriptional changes in HDF were not strongly determined by alterations in chromatin accessibility; rather, an already permissive chromatin landscape seemed to facilitate the early accessibility to MAPK/ERK-regulated transcription factor binding sites. Combinatorial treatment with the MEK inhibitor trametinib did not preclude the paradoxical activation of MAPK/ERK signaling in HDF. When administered together, vemurafenib partially compensated for the reduction of cell viability and proliferation induced by trametinib. These paradoxical changes were restrained by using the third generation BRAF inhibitor PLX8394, a so-called paradox breaker compound. However, the advantageous effects on HDF during combination therapies were also lost.

Conclusions: Vemurafenib induces paradoxical changes in HDF, enabled by a permissive chromatin landscape. These changes might provide an advantage during combination therapies, by compensating for the toxicity induced in stromal cells by less specific MAPK/ERK inhibitors. Our results highlight the relevance of evaluating the effects of the drugs on non-transformed stromal components, carefully considering the implications of their administration either as mono- or combination therapies. Video Abstract.

Keywords: Chromatin; Fibroblast; Melanoma; PLX8394; Transcriptome; Vemurafenib.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Vemurafenib*


  • Vemurafenib