The RAF inhibitor PLX4032 inhibits ERK signaling and tumor cell proliferation in a V600E BRAF-selective manner.
Tumors with mutant BRAF and some with mutant RAS are dependent upon ERK signaling for proliferation, and their growth is suppressed by MAPK/ERK kinase (MEK) inhibitors. In contrast, tumor cells with human EGF receptor (HER) kinase activation proliferate in a MEK-independent manner. These findings have led to the development of RAF and MEK inhibitors as anticancer agents. Like MEK inhibitors, the RAF inhibitor PLX4032 inhibits the proliferation of BRAF(V600E) tumor cells but not that of HER kinase-dependent tumors. However, tumors with RAS mutation that are sensitive to MEK inhibition are insensitive to PLX4032. MEK inhibitors inhibit ERK phosphorylation in all normal and tumor cells, whereas PLX4032 inhibits ERK signaling only in tumor cells expressing BRAF(V600E). In contrast, the drug activates MEK and ERK phosphorylation in cells with wild-type BRAF. In BRAF(V600E) tumor cells, MEK and RAF inhibitors affect the expression of a common set of genes. PLX4032 inhibits ERK signaling output in mutant BRAF cells, whereas it transiently activates the expression of these genes in tumor cells with wild-type RAF. Thus, PLX4032 inhibits ERK signaling output in a mutant BRAF-selective manner. These data explain why the drug selectively inhibits the growth of mutant BRAF tumors and suggest that it will not cause toxicity resulting from the inhibition of ERK signaling in normal cells. This selectivity may lead to a broader therapeutic index and help explain the greater antitumor activity observed with this drug than with MEK inhibitors.