BRAF associated autophagy exploitation: BRAF and autophagy inhibitors synergise to efficiently overcome resistance of BRAF mutant colorectal cancer cells

Maria Goulielmaki, Evangelos Koustas, Eirini Moysidou, Margarita Vlassi, Takehiko Sasazuki, Senji Shirasawa, George Zografos, Eftychia Oikonomou, Alexander Pintzas
Oncotarget 2016 February 23, 7 (8): 9188-221
Autophagy is the basic catabolic mechanism that involves cell degradation of unnecessary or dysfunctional cellular components. Autophagy has a controversial role in cancer--both in protecting against tumor progression by isolation of damaged organelles, or by potentially contributing to cancer growth. The impact of autophagy in RAS induced transformation still remains to be further analyzed based on the differential effect of RAS isoforms and tumor cell context. In the present study, the effect of KRAS/BRAF/PIK3CA oncogenic pathways on the autophagic cell properties and on main components of the autophagic machinery like p62 (SQSTM1), Beclin-1 (BECN1) and MAP1LC3 (LC3) in colon cancer cells was investigated. This study provides evidence that BRAF oncogene induces the expression of key autophagic markers, like LC3 and BECN1 in colorectal tumor cells. Herein, PI3K/AKT/MTOR inhibitors induce autophagic tumor properties, whereas RAF/MEK/ERK signalling inhibitors reduce expression of autophagic markers. Based on the ineffectiveness of BRAFV600E inhibitors in BRAFV600E bearing colorectal tumors, the BRAF related autophagic properties in colorectal cancer cells are further exploited, by novel combinatorial anti-cancer protocols. Strong evidence is provided here that pre-treatment of autophagy inhibitor 3-MA followed by its combination with BRAFV600E targeting drug PLX4720 can synergistically sensitize resistant colorectal tumors. Notably, colorectal cancer cells are very sensitive to mono-treatments of another autophagy inhibitor, Bafilomycin A1. The findings of this study are expected to provide novel efficient protocols for treatment of otherwise resistant colorectal tumors bearing BRAFV600E, by exploiting the autophagic properties induced by BRAF oncogene.

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