Systematic approaches to overcoming limitations of MAPK pathway inhibition in melanoma

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Systematic approaches to overcoming limitations of MAPK pathway inhibition in melanoma

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Title: Systematic approaches to overcoming limitations of MAPK pathway inhibition in melanoma
Author: Konieczkowski, David Joseph
Citation: Konieczkowski, David Joseph. 2013. Systematic approaches to overcoming limitations of MAPK pathway inhibition in melanoma. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Metastatic melanoma is an aggressive, incurable cancer with historically few therapeutic options. The discovery that 60% of melanomas harbor the oncogenic BRAF_V600E mutation, which constitutively activates the MAPK pathway, has provided a promising new therapeutic axis. Although MAPK pathway inhibitor therapy has shown striking clinical results in BRAF_V600-mutant melanoma, this approach faces three limitations. First, 10-20% of BRAF_V600-mutant melanomas never achieve meaningful response to MAPK pathway inhibitor therapy (intrinsic resistance). Second, among BRAF_V600-mutant melanomas initially responding to MAPK pathway inhibitor therapy, relapse is universal (acquired resistance). Third, approximately 40% of melanomas lack BRAF_V600 mutations and so are not currently candidates for MAPK pathway inhibitor therapy. We sought to address each of these problems: by characterizing the phenomenon of intrinsic MAPK pathway inhibitor resistance, by finding ways to perturb mechanisms of acquired MAPK pathway inhibitor resistance, and by identifying novel dependencies in melanoma outside of the MAPK pathway. Intriguingly, the NF-kappa B pathway emerged as a common theme across these investigations. In particular, we establish that MAPK pathway inhibitor sensitive and resistant melanomas display distinct transcriptional signatures. Unlike most BRAF_V600-mutant melanomas, which highly express the melanocytic lineage transcription factor MITF, MAPK pathway inhibitor resistant lines display low MITF expression but high levels of NF-kappa B signaling. These divergent transcriptional states, which arise in melanocytes from aberrant MAPK pathway activation by BRAF_V600E, remain plastic and mutually antagonistic in established melanomas. Together, these results characterize a dichotomy between MITF and NF-kappa B cellular states as a determinant of intrinsic sensitivity versus resistance to MAPK pathway inhibitors in BRAF_V600-mutant melanoma. In separate investigations, we have shown that, NFKB1 p105, a member of the NF-kappa B family, intimately regulates levels of COT, a known effector of resistance to MAPK pathway inhibitors. Moreover, we have used shRNA screening to nominate particular nodes within the NF-kappa B pathway, including MYD88 and IRF3, as candidate melanoma lineage-specific dependencies. Cumulatively, although these studies use diverse approaches to investigate the limitations of MAPK pathway inhibitor therapy in melanoma, they converge in nominating the NF-kappa B pathway as a previously underappreciated feature of melanoma biology and suggest the relevance of this pathway for future investigation.
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