The MEK5/ERK5 signaling pathway is emerging as an important contributor to colon cancer onset, progression and metastasis; however, its relevance to chemotherapy resistance remains unknown. Here, we evaluated the impact of the MEK5/ERK5 cascade in colon cancer cell sensitivity to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). Increased ERK5 expression was correlated with poor overall survival in colon cancer patients. In colon cancer cells, 5-FU exposure impaired endogenous KRAS/MEK5/ERK5 expression and/or activation. In turn, MEK5 constitutive activation reduced 5-FUinduced cytotoxicity. Using genetic and pharmacological approaches, we showed that ERK5 inhibition increased caspase-3/7 activity and apoptosis following 5-FU exposure. Mechanistically, this was further associated with increased p53 transcriptional activation of p21 and PUMA. In addition, ERK5 inhibition increased the response of HCT116 p53+/+ cells to 5-FU, but failed to sensitize HCT116 p53-/- cells to the cytotoxic effects of this chemotherapeutic agent, suggesting a p53-dependent axis mediating 5-FU sensitization. Finally, ERK5 inhibition using XMD8-92 was shown to increase the antitumor effects of 5-FU in a murine subcutaneous xenograft model, enhancing apoptosis while markedly reducing tumor growth. Collectively, our results suggest that ERK5-targeted inhibition provides a promising therapeutic approach to overcome resistance to 5-FU-based chemotherapy and improve colon cancer treatment.
Pereira, D. M., Simões, A. E. S., Gomes, S. E., Castro, R. E., Carvalho, T., Rodrigues, C. M. P., & Borralho, P. M. (2016). MEK5/ERK5 signaling inhibition increases colon cancer cell sensitivity to 5-fluorouracil through a p53-dependent mechanism. Oncotarget, 7(23). https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9107