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BRAF mutations occur in ~10% of colorectal cancer (CRC) and are associated with poor prognosis. Inhibitors selective for the BRAFV600E oncoprotein, the most common BRAF mutant, elicit only poor response rates in BRAF-mutant CRC as single agents. This unresponsiveness was mechanistically attributed to the loss of negative feedbacks on the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) and initiated clinical trials that combine BRAF (and MEK) inhibitors, either singly or in combination, with the anti-EGFR antibodies cetuximab or panitumumab. First results of these combinatorial studies demonstrated improved efficacy, however, the response rates still were heterogeneous. Here, we show that BRAF inhibition leads to the upregulation of a variety of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) in CRC cell lines, including not only the EGFR, but also human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER) 2 and HER3. Importantly, combination of the BRAF inhibitors (BRAFi) vemurafenib (PLX4032), dabrafenib, or encorafenib with inhibitors dually targeting the EGFR and HER2 (such as lapatinib, canertinib, and afatinib) significantly reduced the metabolic activity and proliferative potential of CRC cells. This re-sensitization was also observed after genetic depletion of HER2 or HER3. Interestingly, BRAF inhibitors did not only upregulate RTKs, but also increased the abundance of the GRB2-associated binders (Gab) 1 and Gab2, two important amplifiers of RTK signaling. An allele-specific shRNA-mediated knockdown of BRAFV600E revealed that Gab2 upregulation was directly dependent on the loss of the oncoprotein and was not caused by an "off-target" effect of these kinase inhibitors. Furthermore, Gab2 and Gab2-mediated Shp2 signaling were shown to be functionally important in BRAFi resistance. These findings highlight potential new escape mechanisms to these targeted therapies and indicate that a broad suppression of RTK signaling might be beneficial and should be taken into account in future research addressing targeted therapy in BRAF-mutant CRC.
PMID: 29326440 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]