The Axl receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) has been established as a strong candidate for targeted therapy of cancer. However, the benefits of targeted therapies are limited due to acquired resistance and activation of alternative RTKs. Therefore, we asked if cancer cells are able to overcome targeted Axl therapies. Here, we demonstrate that inhibition of Axl by short interfering RNA or the tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) BMS777607 induces the expression of human epidermal growth factor receptor 3 (HER3) and the neuregulin 1(NRG1)-dependent phosphorylation of HER3 in MDA-MB231 and Ovcar8 cells. Moreover, analysis of 20 Axl-expressing cancer cell lines of different tissue origin indicates a low basal phosphorylation of RAC-α serine/threonine-protein kinase (AKT) as a general requirement for HER3 activation on Axl inhibition. Consequently, phosphorylation of AKT arises as an independent biomarker for Axl treatment. Additionally, we introduce phosphorylation of HER3 as an independent pharmacodynamic biomarker for monitoring of anti-Axl therapy response. Inhibition of cell viability by BMS777607 could be rescued by NRG1-dependent activation of HER3, suggesting an escape mechanism by tumor microenvironment. The Axl-TKI MPCD84111 simultaneously blocked Axl and HER2/3 signaling and thereby prohibited HER3 feedback activation. Furthermore, dual inhibition of Axl and HER2/3 using BMS777607 and lapatinib led to a significant inhibition of cell viability in Axl-expressing MDA-MB231 and Ovcar8 cells. Therefore, we conclude that, in patient cohorts with expression of Axl and low basal activity of AKT, a combined inhibition of Axl and HER2/3 kinase would be beneficial to overcome acquired resistance to Axl-targeted therapies.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research