Purpose: Activating mutations in the BRAF oncogene are found in 8% to 15% of colorectal cancer patients and have been associated with poor survival. In contrast with BRAF-mutant (MT) melanoma, inhibition of the MAPK pathway is ineffective in the majority of BRAFMT colorectal cancer patients. Therefore, identification of novel therapies for BRAFMT colorectal cancer is urgently needed. Experimental Design: BRAFMT and wild-type (WT) colorectal cancer models were assessed in vitro and in vivo. Small-molecule inhibitors of MEK1/2, MET, and HDAC were used, overexpression and siRNA approaches were applied, and cell death was assessed by flow cytometry, Western blotting, cell viability, and caspase activity assays. Results: Increased c-MET-STAT3 signaling was identified as a novel adaptive resistance mechanism to MEK inhibitors (MEKi) in BRAFMT colorectal cancer models in vitro and in vivo. Moreover, MEKi treatment resulted in acute increases in transcription of the endogenous caspase-8 inhibitor c-FLIPL in BRAFMT cells, but not in BRAFWT cells, and inhibition of STAT3 activity abrogated MEKi induced c-FLIPL expression. In addition, treatment with c-FLIP-specific siRNA or HDAC inhibitors abrogated MEKi-induced upregulation of c-FLIPL expression and resulted in significant increases in MEKi-induced cell death in BRAFMT colorectal cancer cells. Notably, combined HDAC inhibitor/MEKi treatment resulted in dramatically attenuated tumor growth in BRAFMT xenografts. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that c-MET/STAT3-dependent upregulation of c-FLIPL expression is an important escape mechanism following MEKi treatment in BRAFMT colorectal cancer. Thus, combinations of MEKi with inhibitors of c-MET or c-FLIP (e.g., HDAC inhibitors) could be potential novel treatment strategies for BRAFMT colorectal cancer.
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© 2015 American Association for Cancer Research.