Combined SFK/MEK inhibition prevents metastatic outgrowth of dormant tumor cells

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Breast cancer (BC) can recur as metastatic disease many years after primary tumor removal, suggesting that disseminated tumor cells survive for extended periods in a dormant state that is refractory to conventional therapies. We have previously shown that altering the tumor microenvironment through fibrosis with collagen and fibronectin deposition can trigger tumor cells to switch from a dormant to a proliferative state. Here, we used an in vivo preclinical model and a 3D in vitro model of dormancy to evaluate the role of Src family kinase (SFK) in regulating this dormant-to-proliferative switch. We found that pharmacological inhibition of SFK signaling or Src knockdown results in the nuclear localization of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p27 and prevents the proliferative outbreak of dormant BC cells and metastatic lesion formation; however, SFK inhibition did not kill dormant cells. Dormant cell proliferation also required ERK1/2 activation. Combination treatment of cells undergoing the dormant-to-proliferative switch with the Src inhibitor (AZD0530) and MEK1/2 inhibitor (AZD6244) induced apoptosis in a large fraction of the dormant cells and delayed metastatic outgrowth, neither of which was observed with either inhibitor alone. Thus, targeting Src prevents the proliferative response of dormant cells to external stimuli, but requires MEK1/2 inhibition to suppress their survival. These data indicate that treatments targeting Src in combination with MEK1/2 may prevent BC recurrence.

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