Relationships between signaling pathway usage and sensitivity to a pathway inhibitor: examination of trametinib responses in cultured breast cancer lines

Euphemia Y Leung, Ji Eun Kim, Marjan Askarian-Amiri, Gordon W Rewcastle, Graeme J Finlay, Bruce C Baguley
PloS One 2014, 9 (8): e105792
Cellular signaling pathways involving mTOR, PI3K and ERK have dominated recent studies of breast cancer biology, and inhibitors of these pathways have formed a focus of numerous clinical trials. We have chosen trametinib, a drug targeting MEK in the ERK pathway, to address two questions. Firstly, does inhibition of a signaling pathway, as measured by protein phosphorylation, predict the antiproliferative activity of trametinib? Secondly, do inhibitors of the mTOR and PI3K pathways synergize with trametinib in their effects on cell proliferation? A panel of 30 human breast cancer cell lines was chosen to include lines that could be classified according to whether they were ER and PR positive, HER2 over-expressing, and "triple negative". Everolimus (targeting mTOR), NVP-BEZ235 and GSK2126458 (both targeting PI3K/mTOR) were chosen for combination experiments. Inhibition of cell proliferation was measured by IC50 values and pathway utilization was measured by phosphorylation of signaling kinases. Overall, no correlation was found between trametinib IC50 values and inhibition of ERK signaling. Inhibition of ERK phosphorylation was observed at trametinib concentrations not affecting proliferation, and sensitivity of cell proliferation to trametinib was found in cell lines with low ERK phosphorylation. Evidence was found for synergy between trametinib and either everolimus, NVP-BEZ235 or GSK2126458, but this was cell line specific. The results have implications for the clinical application of PI3K/mTOR and MEK inhibitors.

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