Synthetic lethal screening with small-molecule inhibitors provides a pathway to rational combination therapies for melanoma

Devin G. Roller, Mark Axelrod, Brian J. Capaldo, Karin Jensen, Aaron Mackey, Michael J. Weber, Daniel Gioeli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent data show that extracellular signals are transmitted through a network of proteins rather than hierarchical signaling pathways, suggesting that the inhibition of a single component of a canonical pathway is insufficient for the treatment of cancer. The biologic outcome of signaling through a network is inherently more robust and resistant to inhibition of a single network component. In this study, we conducted a functional chemical genetic screen to identify novel interactions between signaling inhibitors that would not be predicted on the basis of our current understanding of signaling networks. We screened over 300 drug combinations in nine melanoma cell lines and have identified pairs of compounds that show synergistic cytotoxicity. The synergistic cytotoxicities identified did not correlate with the known RAS and BRAF mutational status of the melanoma cell lines. Among the most robust results was synergy between sorafenib, a multikinase inhibitor with activity against RAF, and diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Drug substitution experiments using the NSAIDs celecoxib and ibuprofen or the MAP-ERK kinase inhibitor PD325901 and the RAF inhibitor RAF265 suggest that inhibition of COX and mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling are targets for the synergistic cytotoxicity of sorafenib and diclofenac. Cotreatment with sorafenib and diclofenac interrupts a positive feedback signaling loop involving extracellular signal-regulated kinase, cellular phospholipase A2, and COX. Genome-wide expression profiling shows synergy-specific downregulation of survival-related genes. This study has uncovered novel functional drug combinations and suggests that the underlying signaling networks that control responses to targeted agents can vary substantially, depending on unexplored components of the cell genotype.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2505-2515
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Cancer Therapeutics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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