Treatment with RAF inhibitors such as vemurafenib causes the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas (cSCC) or keratoacanthomas as a side effect in 18% to 30% of patients. It is known that RAF inhibitors activate the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway and stimulate growth of RAS-mutated cells, possibly accounting for up to 60% of cSCC or keratoacanthoma lesions with RAS mutations, but other contributing events are obscure. To identify such events, we evaluated tumors from patients treated with vemurafenib for the presence of human papilloma virus (HPV) DNA and identified 13% to be positive. Using a transgenic murine model of HPV-driven cSCC (K14-HPV16 mice), we conducted a functional test to determine whether administration of RAF inhibitors could promote cSCC in HPV-infected tissues. Vemurafenib treatment elevated MAPK markers and increased cSCC incidence from 22% to 70% in this model. Furthermore, 55% of the cSCCs arising in vemurafenib-treated mice exhibited a wild-type Ras genotype, consistent with the frequency observed in human patients. Our results argue that HPV cooperates with vemurafenib to promote tumorigenesis, in either the presence or absence of RAS mutations.
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