Research ArticleCancer

Resistance to dual blockade of the kinases PI3K and mTOR in KRAS-mutant colorectal cancer models results in combined sensitivity to inhibition of the receptor tyrosine kinase EGFR

Sci. Signal.  11 Nov 2014:
Vol. 7, Issue 351, pp. ra107
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2005516

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Abstract

Targeted blockade of aberrantly activated signaling pathways is an attractive therapeutic strategy for solid tumors, but drug resistance is common. KRAS is a frequently mutated gene in human cancer but remains a challenging clinical target. Inhibitors against KRAS signaling mediators, namely, PI3K (phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase) and mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin), have limited clinical efficacy as single agents in KRAS-mutant colorectal cancer (CRC). We investigated potential bypass mechanisms to PI3K/mTOR inhibition in KRAS-mutant CRC. Using genetically engineered mouse model cells that had acquired resistance to the dual PI3K/mTOR small-molecule inhibitor PF-04691502, we determined with chemical library screens that inhibitors of the ERBB [epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)] family restored the sensitivity to PF-04691502. Although EGFR inhibitors alone have limited efficacy in reducing KRAS-mutant tumors, we found that PF-04691502 induced the abundance, phosphorylation, and activity of EGFR, ERBB2, and ERBB3 through activation of FOXO3a (forkhead box O 3a), a transcription factor inhibited by the PI3K to AKT pathway. PF-04691502 also induced a stem cell–like gene expression signature. KRAS-mutant patient-derived xenografts from mice treated with PF-04691502 had a similar gene expression signature and exhibited increased EGFR activation, suggesting that this drug-induced resistance mechanism may occur in patients. Combination therapy with dacomitinib (a pan-ERBB inhibitor) restored sensitivity to PF-04691502 in drug-resistant cells in culture and induced tumor regression in drug-resistant allografts in mice. Our findings suggest that combining PI3K/mTOR and EGFR inhibitors may improve therapeutic outcome in patients with KRAS-mutant CRC.

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