Identification of cell type-specific correlations between ERK activity and cell viability upon treatment with ERK1/2 inhibitors
Increased MAPK signaling is a hallmark of various cancers and is a central regulator of cell survival. Direct ERK1/2 inhibition is considered a promising approach to avoid ERK1/2 reactivation caused by upstream kinases BRAF, MEK1/2, and KRAS, as well as by receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors, but the dynamics and selectivity of ERK1/2 inhibitors are much less studied compared to BRAF or MEK inhibitors. Using ERK1/2 and downstream kinase ELK1 reporter cell lines of lung cancer (H1299; NRAS), colon cancer (HCT-116; KRAS), neuroblastoma (SH-SY5Y), and leukemia (U937), we examined the relationship between ERK inhibition and drug-induced toxicity for five ERK inhibitors: SCH772984, ravoxertinib, LY3214996, ulixertinib, and VX-11e, as well as one MEK inhibitor, PD0325901. Comparing cell viability and ERK inhibition revealed different ERK-dependencies for these cell lines. We identify several drugs, such as SCH772984 and VX-11e, which induce excessive toxicity not directly related to ERK1/2 inhibition in specific cell lines. We also show that PD0325901, LY3214996, and ulixertinib are prone to ERK1/2 reactivation over time. We distinguished two types of ERK1/2 reactivation: the first could be reversed by adding a fresh dose of inhibitors, while the second persists even after additional treatments. We also showed that cells that became resistant to the MEK1/2 inhibitor PD0325901 due to ERK1/2 reactivation remained sensitive to ERK1/2 inhibitor ulixertinib. Our data indicate that correlation of ERK inhibition with drug-induced toxicity in multiple cell lines may help to find more selective and effective ERK1/2 inhibitors.
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