Acquired resistance to anti-MAPK targeted therapy confers an immune-evasive tumor microenvironment and cross-resistance to immunotherapy in melanoma

Nat Cancer. 2021 Jul;2(7):693-708. doi: 10.1038/s43018-021-00221-9. Epub 2021 Jul 15.


How targeted therapies and immunotherapies shape tumors, and thereby influence subsequent therapeutic responses, is poorly understood. In the present study, we show, in melanoma patients and mouse models, that when tumors relapse after targeted therapy with MAPK pathway inhibitors, they are cross-resistant to immunotherapies, despite the different modes of action of these therapies. We find that cross-resistance is mediated by a cancer cell-instructed, immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment that lacks functional CD103+ dendritic cells, precluding an effective T cell response. Restoring the numbers and functionality of CD103+ dendritic cells can re-sensitize cross-resistant tumors to immunotherapy. Cross-resistance does not arise from selective pressure of an immune response during evolution of resistance, but from the MAPK pathway, which not only is reactivated, but also exhibits an increased transcriptional output that drives immune evasion. Our work provides mechanistic evidence for cross-resistance between two unrelated therapies, and a scientific rationale for treating patients with immunotherapy before they acquire resistance to targeted therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Immune Evasion
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use
  • Immunotherapy
  • Melanoma* / drug therapy
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Tumor Microenvironment*


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors