Rapamycin analogues have antitumor efficacy in several tumor types, however few patients demonstrate tumor regression. Thus, there is a pressing need for markers of intrinsic response/resistance and rational combination therapies. We hypothesized that epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) confers rapamycin resistance. We found that the epithelial marker E-cadherin protein is higher in rapamycin sensitive (RS) cells and mesenchymal breast cancer cell lines selected by transcriptional EMT signatures are less sensitive to rapamycin. MCF7 cells, transfected with constitutively active mutant Snail, had increased rapamycin resistance (RR) compared to cells transfected with wild-type Snail. Conversely, we transfected two RR mesenchymal cell lines-ACHN and MDA-MB-231-with miR-200b/c or ZEB1 siRNA to promote mesenchymal-to-epithelial transition. This induced E-cadherin expression in both cell lines, and ACHN demonstrated a significant increase in RS. Treatment of ACHN and MDA-MB-231 with trametinib modulated EMT in ACHN cells in vitro. Treatment of MDA-MB-231 and ACHN xenografts with trametinib in combination with rapamycin resulted in significant growth inhibition in both but without an apparent effect on EMT. Future studies are needed to determine whether EMT status is predictive of sensitivity to rapalogs and to determine whether combination therapy with EMT modulating agents can enhance antitumor effects of PI3K/mTOR inhibitors.
- Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT)
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