Oncogenic kinase fusions of ALK, ROS1, RET and NTRK1 act as drivers in human lung and other cancers. Residual tumor burden following treatment of ALK or ROS1+ lung cancer patients with oncogene-targeted therapy ultimately enables the emergence of drug-resistant clones, limiting the long-term effectiveness of these therapies. To determine the signaling mechanisms underlying incomplete tumor cell killing in oncogene-addicted cancer cells, we investigated the role of EGFR signaling in drug-naive cancer cells harboring these oncogene fusions. We defined three distinct roles for EGFR in the response to oncogene-specific therapies. First, EGF-mediated activation of EGFR blunted fusion kinase inhibitor binding and restored fusion kinase signaling complexes. Second, fusion kinase inhibition shifted adaptor protein binding from the fusion oncoprotein to EGFR. Third, EGFR enabled bypass signaling to critical downstream pathways such as MAPK. While evidence of EGFR-mediated bypass signaling has been reported after ALK and ROS1 blockade, our results extended this effect to RET and NTRK1 blockade and uncovered the other additional mechanisms in gene fusion-positive lung cancer cells, mouse models and human clinical specimens before onset of acquired drug resistance. Collectively, our findings show how EGFR signaling can provide a critical adaptive survival mechanism that allows cancer cells to evade oncogene-specific inhibitors, providing a rationale to co-target EGFR to reduce risks of developing drug resistance.
- Received January 17, 2017.
- Revision received April 13, 2017.
- Accepted April 14, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.