The development of vemurafenib resistance limits the long-term efficacy of this drug for treatment of metastatic melanomas with the V600EBRAF mutation. Inhibition of downstream MAPK signaling with vemurafenib induces apoptotic cell death mediated by caspase-3, suggesting that addition of a procaspase-3 activator could enhance anticancer effects. Here, we show that the combination of PAC-1, a procaspase-activating compound, and vemurafenib is highly synergistic in enhancing caspase-3 activity and apoptotic cell death in melanoma cell lines harboring the V600EBRAF mutation. In vivo, the combination displays a favorable safety profile in mice and exerts significant antitumor effects. We further demonstrate that addition of PAC-1 to the clinically useful combination of vemurafenib and a MEK inhibitor, trametinib, starkly enhances the caspase-3 activity and proapoptotic effect of the combination. Moreover, addition of low concentration PAC-1 also delays the regrowth of cells following treatment with vemurafenib. Finally, PAC-1 remains potent against vemurafenib-resistant A375VR cells in cell culture and synergizes with vemurafenib to exert antitumor effects on A375VR cell growth in vivo. Collectively, our data suggest that inhibition of MAPK signaling combined with concurrent procaspase-3 activation is an effective strategy to enhance the antitumor activity of vemurafenib and mitigate the development of resistance. Mol Cancer Ther; 15(8); 1859–69. ©2016 AACR.
Note: Supplementary data for this article are available at Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Online (http://mct.aacrjournals.org/).
- Received January 18, 2016.
- Revision received May 4, 2016.
- Accepted May 31, 2016.
- ©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.