MEK-ERK signaling is a therapeutic target in metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer

Nicholas G. Nickols, Ramin Nazarian, Shuang G. Zhao, Victor Tan, Vladislav Uzunangelov, Zheng Xia, Robert Baertsch, Elad Neeman, Allen C. Gao, George V. Thomas, Lauren Howard, Amanda M. De Hoedt, Josh Stuart, Theodore Goldstein, Kim Chi, Martin E. Gleave, Julie N. Graff, Tomasz M. Beer, Justin M. Drake, Christopher P. EvansRahul Aggarwal, Adam Foye, Felix Y. Feng, Eric J. Small, William J. Aronson, Stephen J. Freedland, Owen N. Witte, Jiaoti Huang, Joshi J. Alumkal, Robert E. Reiter, Matthew B. Rettig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Background: Metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) is incurable and progression after drugs that target the androgen receptor-signaling axis is inevitable. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop more effective treatments beyond hormonal manipulation. We sought to identify activated kinases in mCRPC as therapeutic targets for existing, approved agents, with the goal of identifying candidate drugs for rapid translation into proof of concept Phase II trials in mCRPC. Methods: To identify evidence of activation of druggable kinases in these patients, we compared mRNA expression from metastatic biopsies of patients with mCRPC (n = 101) to mRNA expression in localized prostate from TCGA and used this analysis to infer differential kinase activity. In addition, we assessed the differential phosphorylation levels for key MAPK pathway kinases between mCRPC and localized prostate cancers. Results: Transcriptomic profiling of 101 patients with mCRPC as compared to patients with localized prostate cancer identified evidence of hyperactive ERK1, and whole genome sequencing revealed frequent amplifications of members of the MAPK pathway in 32% of this cohort. Next, we confirmed elevated levels of phosphorylated ERK1/2 in castration resistant prostate cancer as compared to untreated primary prostate cancer. We observed that the presence of detectable phosphorylated ERK1/2 in the primary tumor is associated with biochemical failure after radical prostatectomy independent of clinicopathologic features. ERK1 is the immediate downstream target of MEK1/2, which is druggable with trametinib, an approved therapeutic for melanoma. Trametinib elicited a profound biochemical and clinical response in a patient who had failed multiple prior treatments for mCRPC. Conclusions: We conclude that pharmacologic targeting of the MEK/ERK pathway may be a viable treatment strategy for patients with refractory metastatic prostate cancer. An ongoing Phase II trial tests this hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-538
Number of pages8
JournalProstate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Urology
  • Cancer Research


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