Article Abstract

Adaptive resistance to targeted therapies in cancer

Authors: Rafael Rosell, Niki Karachaliou, Daniela Morales-Espinosa, Carlota Costa, Miguel Angel Molina, Irene Sansano, Amaya Gasco, Santiago Viteri, Bartomeu Massuti, Jia Wei, María González Cao, Alejandro Martínez Bueno


It is widely acknowledged that there is a need for molecular profiling in non-small-cell lung cancer. For example, treatment based on EGFR mutation status has attained successful results. However, in spite of excellent initial response to oral EGFR tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), progression-free survival is still limited. Current research has focused mostly on acquired resistance mechanisms, such as overexpression of AXL and loss of the Mediator MED12. In this review, in contrast, we discuss adaptive, rather than acquired, resistance.

Adaptive resistance can occur almost immediately after starting targeted therapy through a rapid rewiring of cancer cell signaling. By losing ERK negative feedback on receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) expression, cancer cells are exposed to the stimuli of several ligands, and the ensuing activation of several RTKs reprograms all the canonical signaling pathways. The overexpression of several RTKs was observed in breast cancer cell lines treated with a MEK inhibitor and in BRAFV600E melanoma cell lines treated with BRAF inhibitors. This rebound effect of overexpression of several RTKs, including ERBB3, also occurs in lung cancers driven by Kras or EGFR mutations when treated with MEK, PI3K or dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitors. Synthetic lethality can be effectively induced by co-targeting these overexpressed RTKs.

We speculate that in patients with EGFR mutations, adaptive resistance occurs in a significant proportion of patients. Rebiopsies performed hours after starting treatment with EGFR TKIs can identify which RTKs are overexpressed after treatment. Efficient co-targeting of these RTKs can induce synthetic lethality and help overcome the limited effect of EGFR TKI monotherapy.