B-Rapidly Accelerated Fibrosarcoma (BRAF) mutations are found in about 50% of melanoma patients. Treatment with Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved BRAF and MAP/ERK kinase (MEK) inhibitors has improved progression free and overall survival of patients with BRAF mutant melanoma. However, all responders develop resistance typically within 1 year of treatment with these inhibitors. Evidence indicates that reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels are elevated after BRAF pathway inhibition treatment. We aim to decipher the role of mitochondrial antioxidant proteins relative to ROS levels and BRAF pathway inhibitor resistance. We observed BRAF mutant melanoma cells treated with the combination of a MEK inhibitor (trametinib) and a BRAF inhibitor (dabrafenib), exhibited elevated ROS levels, both in in vitro and in vivo melanoma models. We next generated trametinib- and dabrafenib-resistant (TDR) cells and found increased ROS levels after acquisition of resistance. An immunofluorescence experiment showed an increase of DNA damage in TDR cell lines. Furthermore, we observed that TDR cells increased superoxide dismutase 2 (SOD2), an antioxidant, at both mRNA and protein levels, with the upregulation of the transcription factor Nuclear Factor (NF)-κB. Knockdown of SOD2 significantly reduced the growth of BRAF pathway inhibitor-resistant cells. In addition, the results indicate that TDR cells can be re-sensitized to BRAF pathway inhibitors by the ROS scavenger, N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC). Overall, these data indicate that BRAF pathway inhibitor-resistant cells can compensate for elevated ROS via increased expression of the antioxidant SOD2.
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