About 65% to 70% of melanomas harbor a mutation in v-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homolog B1 (BRAF) that causes the steady-state activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). We sought to investigate the efficacy of PLX4032 (BRAF inhibitor) to identify patterns/predictors of response/resistance and to study the effects of BRAF in melanoma.
Well-characterized melanoma cell lines, including several with acquired drug resistance, were exposed to PLX4032. Growth inhibition, phosphosignaling, cell cycle, apoptosis, and gene expression analyses were performed before and after exposure to drug.
Using a growth-adjusted inhibitory concentration of 50% cutoff of 1 µM, 13 of 35 cell lines were sensitive to PLX4032, 16 resistant, and 6 intermediate (37%, 46%, and 17% respectively). PLX4032 caused growth inhibition, G0/G1 arrest, and restored apoptosis in the sensitive cell lines. A BRAF mutation predicted for but did not guarantee a response, whereas a neuroblastoma RAS viral oncogene homolog mutation or wild-type BRAF conferred resistance. Cells with concurrent BRAF mutations and melanocortin 1 receptor germ line variants and/or a more differentiated melanocyte genotype had a preferential response. Acquired PLX4032 resistance reestablishes ERK signaling, promotes a nonmelanocytic genotype, and is associated with an increase in the gene expression of certain metallothioneins and mediators of angiogenesis.
PLX4032 has robust activity in BRAF mutated melanoma. The preclinical use of this molecule identifies criteria for its proper clinical application, describes patterns of and reasons for response/resistance, and affords insight into the role of a BRAF mutation in melanoma.