Targeting melanoma with front-line therapy does not abrogate Nodal-expressing tumor cells

Hendrix, M. J.; Kandela, I.; Mazar, A. P.; Seftor, E. A.; Seftor, R. E.; Margaryan, N. V.; Strizzi, L.; Murphy, G. F.; Long, G. V.; Scolyer, R. A.

Lab Invest. 2016 Oct 25; 97(2):176-186


Metastatic melanoma is a highly aggressive skin cancer with a poor prognosis. It is the leading cause of skin cancer deaths with a median overall survival for advanced-stage metastatic disease of <6 months. Despite advances in the field with conventional and targeted therapies, the heterogeneity of melanoma poses the greatest ongoing challenge, ultimately leading to relapse and progression to a more drug-resistant tumor in most patients. Particularly noteworthy are recent findings, indicating that these therapies exert selective pressure on tumors resulting in the activation of pathways associated with cancer stem cells that are unresponsive to current therapy. Our previous studies have shown how Nodal, an embryonic morphogen of the transforming growth factor-beta superfamily, is one of these critical factors that is reactivated in aggressive melanoma and resistant to conventional chemotherapy, such as dacarbazine. In the current study, we sought to determine whether BRAF inhibitor (BRAFi) therapy targeted Nodal-expressing tumor cells in uniquely matched unresectable stage III and IV melanoma patient samples before and after therapy that preceded their eventual death due to disease. The results demonstrate that BRAFi treatment failed to affect Nodal levels in melanoma tissues. Accompanying experiments in soft agar and in nude mice showed the advantage of using combinatorial treatment with BRAFi plus anti-Nodal monoclonal antibody to suppress tumor growth and metastasis. These data provide a promising new approach using front-line therapy combined with targeting a cancer stem cell-associated molecule-producing a more efficacious response than monotherapy.

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