Targeted therapy against the BRAF/mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway is a promising new therapeutic approach for the treatment of melanoma. Treatment with selective BRAF inhibitors results in a high initial response rate but limited duration of response. To counter this, investigators propose combining this therapy with other targeted agents, addressing the issue of redundancy and signaling through different oncogenic pathways. An alternative approach is combining BRAF/MAPK-targeted agents with immunotherapy. Preliminary evidence suggests that oncogenic BRAF (BRAFV600E) contributes to immune escape and that blocking its activity via MAPK pathway inhibition leads to increased expression of melanocyte differentiation antigens (MDA). Recognition of MDAs is a critical component of the immunologic response to melanoma, and several forms of immunotherapy capitalize on this recognition. Among the various approaches to inhibiting BRAF/MAPK, broad MAPK pathway inhibition may have deleterious effects on T lymphocyte function. Here, we corroborate the role of oncogenic BRAF in immune evasion by melanoma cells through suppression of MDAs. We show that inhibition of the MAPK pathway with MAPK/extracellular signal-regulated kinase kinase (MEK) inhibitors or a specific inhibitor of BRAFV600E in melanoma cell lines and tumor digests results in increased levels of MDAs, which is associated with improved recognition by antigen-specific T lymphocytes. However, treatment with MEK inhibitors impairs T lymphocyte function, whereas T-cell function is preserved after treatment with a specific inhibitor of BRAFV600E. These findings suggest that immune evasion of melanomas mediated by oncogenic BRAF may be reversed by targeted BRAF inhibition without compromising T-cell function. These findings have important implications for combined kinase-targeted therapy plus immunotherapy for melanoma.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research