Epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a key process in embryonic development and has been associated with cancer metastasis and drug resistance. For example, in EGFR mutated non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC), EMT has been associated with acquired resistance to the EGFR inhibitor erlotinib. Moreover, "EGFR-addicted" cancer cell lines induced to undergo EMT become erlotinib-resistant in vitro. To identify potential therapeutic vulnerabilities specifically within these mesenchymal, erlotinib-resistant cells, we performed a small molecule screen of ~200 established anti-cancer agents using the EGFR mutant NSCLC HCC827 cell line and a corresponding mesenchymal derivative line. The mesenchymal cells were more resistant to most tested agents; however, a small number of agents showed selective growth inhibitory activity against the mesenchymal cells, with the most potent being the Abl/Src inhibitor, dasatinib. Analysis of the tyrosine phospho-proteome revealed several Src/FAK pathway kinases that were differentially phosphorylated in the mesenchymal cells, and RNAi depletion of the core Src/FAK pathway components in these mesenchymal cells caused apoptosis. These findings reveal a novel role for Src/FAK pathway kinases in drug resistance and identify dasatinib as a potential therapeutic for treatment of erlotinib resistance associated with EMT.
Wilson, C., Nicholes, K., Bustos, D., Lin, E., Song, Q., Stephan, J.-P., … Settleman, J. (2015). Overcoming EMT-associated resistance to anti-cancer drugs via Src/FAK pathway inhibition. Oncotarget, 5(17). https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.2397