ERK5 is activated by oncogenic BRAF and promotes melanoma growth.
Oncogene. 2018 May;37(19):2601-2614. doi: 10.1038/s41388-018-0164-9. Epub 2018 Feb 27.
Malignant melanoma is among the most aggressive cancers and its incidence is increasing worldwide. Targeted therapies and immunotherapy have improved the survival of patients with metastatic melanoma in the last few years; however, available treatments are still unsatisfactory. While the role of the BRAF-MEK1/2-ERK1/2 pathway in melanoma is well established, the involvement of mitogen-activated protein kinases MEK5-ERK5 remains poorly explored. Here we investigated the function of ERK5 signaling in melanoma. We show that ERK5 is consistently expressed in human melanoma tissues and is active in melanoma cells. Genetic silencing and pharmacological inhibition of ERK5 pathway drastically reduce the growth of melanoma cells and xenografts harboring wild-type (wt) or mutated BRAF (V600E). We also found that oncogenic BRAF positively regulates expression, phosphorylation, and nuclear localization of ERK5. Importantly, ERK5 kinase and transcriptional transactivator activities are enhanced by BRAF. Nevertheless, combined pharmacological inhibition of BRAFV600E and MEK5 is required to decrease nuclear ERK5, that is critical for the regulation of cell proliferation. Accordingly, combination of MEK5 or ERK5 inhibitors with BRAFV600E inhibitor vemurafenib is more effective than single treatments in reducing colony formation and growth of BRAFV600E melanoma cells and xenografts. Overall, these data support a key role of the ERK5 pathway for melanoma growth in vitro and in vivo and suggest that targeting ERK5, alone or in combination with BRAF-MEK1/2 inhibitors, might represent a novel approach for melanoma treatment.