Co-expression of TNF receptors 1 and 2 on melanomas facilitates soluble TNF-induced resistance to MAPK pathway inhibitors

J Transl Med. 2022 Jul 25;20(1):331. doi: 10.1186/s12967-022-03538-w.


Background: The effectiveness of MAPK pathway inhibitors (MAPKi) used to treat patients with BRAF-mutant melanoma is limited by a range of resistance mechanisms, including soluble TNF (solTNF)-mediated NF-kB signaling. solTNF preferentially signals through type-1 TNF receptor (TNFR1), however, it can also bind to TNFR2, a receptor that is primarily expressed on leukocytes. Here, we investigate the TNFR2 expression pattern on human BRAFV600E+ melanomas and its role in solTNF-driven resistance reprogramming to MAPKi.

Methods: Flow cytometry was used to test TNFR1, TNFR2 and CD271 expression on, as well as NF-kB phosphorylation in human BRAF-mutant melanoma. The ability of melanoma cell lines to acquire MAPKi resistance in response to recombinant or macrophage-derived TNF was evaluated using the MTT cytotoxicity assay. Gene editing was implemented to knock out or knock in TNF receptors in melanoma cell lines. Knockout and knock-in cell line variants were employed to assess the intrinsic roles of these receptors in TNF-induced resistance to MAPKi. Multicolor immunofluorescence microscopy was utilized to test TNFR2 expression by melanoma in patients receiving MAPKi therapy.

Results: TNFR1 and TNFR2 are co-expressed at various levels on 4/7 BRAFV600E+ melanoma cell lines evaluated in this study. In vitro treatments with solTNF induce MAPKi resistance solely in TNFR2-expressing BRAFV600E+ melanoma cell lines. TNFR1 and TNFR2 knockout and knock-in studies indicate that solTNF-mediated MAPKi resistance in BRAFV600E+ melanomas is predicated on TNFR1 and TNFR2 co-expression, where TNFR1 is the central mediator of NF-kB signaling, while TNFR2 plays an auxiliary role. solTNF-mediated effects are transient and can be abrogated with biologics. Evaluation of patient specimens indicates that TNFR2 is expressed on 50% of primary BRAFV600E+ melanoma cells and that MAPKi therapy may lead to the enrichment of TNFR2-expressing tumor cells.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that TNFR2 is essential to solTNF-induced MAPKi resistance and a possible biomarker to identify melanoma patients that can benefit from solTNF-targeting therapies.

Keywords: BRAF; CD271; Drug resistance; Inhibitors; MEK; Melanoma; Soluble TNF; TNF receptor 1; TNF receptor 2.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Melanoma* / drug therapy
  • Melanoma* / genetics
  • Melanoma* / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf / genetics
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type I / genetics
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type I / metabolism
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type II* / genetics
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type II* / metabolism


  • NF-kappa B
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type I
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor, Type II
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins B-raf