Monoclonal antibodies targeting the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), cetuximab and panitumumab, are a mainstay of metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) treatment. However, a significant number of patients suffer from primary or acquired resistance. RAS mutations are negative predictors of clinical efficacy of anti-EGFR antibodies in patients with mCRC. Oncogenic RAS activates the MAPK and PI3K/ AKT pathways, which are considered the main effectors of resistance. However, the relative impact of these pathways in RAS-mutant CRC is less defined. A better mechanistic understanding of RAS-mediated resistance may guide development of rational intervention strategies. To this end we developed cancer models for functional dissection of resistance to anti-EGFR therapy in vitro and in vivo. To selectively activate MAPK- or AKT-signaling we expressed conditionally activatable RAF-1 and AKT in cancer cells. We found that either pathway independently protected sensitive cancer models against anti-EGFR antibody treatment in vitro and in vivo. RAF-1- and AKT-mediated resistance was associated with increased expression of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins. Biomarkers of MAPK and PI3K/AKT pathway activation correlated with inferior outcome in a cohort of mCRC patients receiving cetuximab-based therapy. Dual pharmacologic inhibition of PI3K and MEK successfully sensitized primary resistant CRC models to anti-EGFR therapy. In conclusion, combined targeting of MAPK and PI3K/AKT signaling, but not single pathways, may be required to enhance the efficacy of anti-EGFR antibody therapy in patients with RAS-mutated CRC as well as in RAS wild type tumors with clinical resistance.
Kasper, S., Reis, H., Ziegler, S., Nothdurft, S., Mueller, A., Goetz, M., … Schuler, M. (2017). Molecular dissection of effector mechanisms of RAS-mediated resistance to anti-EGFR antibody therapy. Oncotarget, 8(28), 45898–45917. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.17438