EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors have shown promising efficacy in the treatment of tumors with EGFR mutations and amplifications. However, tyrosine kinase inhibitors have also proven ineffective against most tumors with EGFR wild-type (WT) alleles. Although some genetic changes, including the KRAS mutation, have been shown to confer resistance to tyrosine kinase inhibitors, novel strategies for the treatment of cancer patients with tumors harboring EGFR WT alleles have yet to be thoroughly delineated. The principal objective of this study was to improve our current understanding of drug interactions between EGFR and MAP/ERK kinase (MEK) inhibitors in an effort to gain insight into a novel therapeutic strategy against EGFR WT tumors. Using a panel of human EGFR WT gastric cancer cell lines, we showed that gastric cancer cells harboring the KRAS mutation were selectively sensitive to MEK inhibition as compared with those cells harboring KRAS and PI3K mutations and KRAS WT alleles. However, all cell lines were found to be resistant to EGFR inhibition. The results from Western blots and phosphoprotein arrays showed that, in MEK inhibitor resistant cell lines, AKT was activated through the EGFR/HER3/PI3K pathway following AZD6244 (ARRY-142886) treatment. Blockade of this feedback mechanism through the targeting of MEK and EGFR resulted in detectable synergistic effects in some cell lines in vitro and in vivo. Our results provide the basis for a rational combination strategy against human EGFR WT gastric cancers, predicated on the understanding of cross-talk between the MEK and EGFR pathways.
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