Pan-erbB inhibition potentiates BRAF inhibitors for melanoma treatment.
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The BRAF inhibitor vemurafenib is currently used for treating patients with BRAF V600E mutant melanoma. However, the responses to vemurafenib are generally partial and of relatively short duration. Recent evidence suggests that activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR)/erbB signaling pathway may be responsible for the development of BRAF inhibitor resistance in melanoma patients. In this study, we characterized the erbB family of receptors and ligands in melanoma cell lines and examined whether targeting both BRAF and erbB provided enhanced antitumor activity in BRAF mutant melanoma. Variable levels of erbB2, erbB3, and truncated erbB4 were expressed in both BRAF wildtype and mutant melanoma cells with no significant differences between wildtype and mutant lines. EGFR was rarely expressed. Neuregulin 3 and neuregulin 4 were the major erbB ligands released by melanoma cells. Multi-erbB targeting with the irreversible tyrosine kinase inhibitor canertinib exerted a more effective growth inhibitory effect in both BRAF wildtype and mutant melanoma cells compared with the single-erbB or dual-erbB targeting inhibitors, gefitinib, erlotinib, and lapatinib. Canertinib inhibited both EGF-induced and neuregulin 1-induced erbB downstream signaling in both mutant and wildtype cell lines. However, canertinib induced apoptosis and sub-G1 arrest only in mutant cells. Canertinib statistically increased the antiproliferative effects of vemurafenib in the BRAF mutant melanoma cell lines while little or no enhanced effect was observed with the combination treatment in the wildtype cell lines. A combined inhibition strategy targeting BRAF together with multiple erbB family kinases is potentially beneficial for treating BRAF V600E mutant melanoma. Wildtype BRAF melanoma may also benefit from a multi-erbB kinase inhibitor.