Combining MEK and SRC inhibitors for treatment of colorectal cancer demonstrate increased efficacy in vitro but not in vivo

PLoS One. 2023 Mar 23;18(3):e0281063. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0281063. eCollection 2023.


Metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More than 50% of patients with mCRC harbor mutations of the oncogenic driver RAS (KRAS or NRAS). Because directly targeting most mutations of RAS is technically challenging, researchers have concentrated on targeting MEK, a downstream mediator of RAS. However, targeting MEK as single-agent therapy is ineffective in patients with mCRC. We hypothesize that combining a MEK inhibitor with other agents can enhance the efficacy of MEK targeting in mCRC. Unbiased high-throughput screening (HTS) was performed to identify drugs that enhance the efficacy of MEK inhibitors. HTS was performed with KRAS-mutated CRC cells using the MEK inhibitor trametinib as a "backbone" and two "clinically ready" compound libraries approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or in clinical trials. HTS demonstrated that the combination of the SRC inhibitor dasatinib and trametinib was synergistic in CRC cells in vitro (MTT and colony formation assays). Analysis of markers for cell proliferation and apoptosis using fluorescence-activated cell sorting, reverse-phase protein array, or Western blotting demonstrated decreased cell proliferation and increased cell death when targeting both SRC and MEK as compared to single agents in multiple CRC cell lines. However, combining dasatinib and trametinib in vivo at doses in mice equivalent to doses used in humans failed to significantly enhance the antitumor activity of trametinib when compared to that of trametinib alone. These results underscore the importance of performing careful preclinical in vivo validation studies using clinically relevant doses as a prerequisite for translating in vitro findings to the clinic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Colorectal Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Dasatinib / pharmacology
  • Dasatinib / therapeutic use
  • Genes, src
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)*
  • Pyridones / pharmacology
  • Pyridones / therapeutic use
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Dasatinib
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins p21(ras)
  • Pyridones