Affiliation: Georg Speyer Haus, Institute for Biomedical Research, Paul Ehrlich Str. 42, D-60596 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
The emergence of low molecular weight kinase inhibitors as “targeted” drugs has led to remarkable advances in the treatment of cancer patients. The clinical benefits of these tumor therapies, however, vary widely in patient populations and with duration of treatment. Intrinsic and acquired resistance against such drugs limits their efficacy. In addition to the well studied mechanisms of resistance based upon drug transport and metabolism, genetic alterations in drug target structures and the activation of compensatory cell signaling have received recent attention. Adaptive responses can be triggered which counteract the initial dependence of tumor cells upon a particular signaling molecule and allow only a transient inhibition of tumor cell growth. These compensating signaling mechanisms are often based upon the relief of repression of regulatory feedback loops. They might involve cell autonomous, intracellular events or they can be mediated via the secretion of growth factor receptor ligands into the tumor microenvironment and signal induction in an auto- or paracrine fashion. The transcription factors Stat3 and Stat5 mediate the biological functions of cytokines, interleukins and growth factors and can be considered as endpoints of multiple signaling pathways. In normal cells this activation is transient and the Stat molecules return to their non-phosphorylated state within a short time period. In tumor cells the balance between activating and de-activating signals is disturbed resulting in the persistent activation of Stat3 or Stat5. The constant activation of Stat3 induces the expression of target genes, which cause the proliferation and survival of cancer cells, as well as their migration and invasive behavior. Activating components of the Jak-Stat pathway have been recognized as potentially valuable drug targets and important principles of compensatory signaling circuit induction during targeted drug treatment have been discovered in the context of kinase inhibition studies in HNSCC cells . The treatment of HNSCC with a specific inhibitor of c-Src, initially resulted in reduced Stat3 and Stat5 activation and subsequently an arrest of cell proliferation and increased apoptosis. However, the inhibition of c-Src only caused a persistent inhibition of Stat5, whereas the inhibition of Stat3 was only transient. The activation of Stat3 was restored within a short time period in the presence of the c-Src inhibitor. This process is mediated through the suppression of PStat5 activity and the decrease in the expression of the Stat5 dependent target gene SOCS2, a negative regulator of Jak2. Jak2 activity is enhanced upon SOCS2 downregulation and causes the reactivation of Stat3. A similar observation has been made upon inhibition of Bmx, bone marrow kinase x-linked, activated in the murine glioma cell lines Tu-2449 and Tu-9648. Its inhibition resulted in a transient decrease of P-Stat3 and the induction of a compensatory Stat3 activation mechanism, possibly through the relief of negative feedback inhibition and Jak2 activation. These observations indicate that the inhibition of a single tyrosine kinase might not be sufficient to induce lasting therapeutic effects in cancer patients. Compensatory kinases and pathways might become activated and maintain the growth and survival of tumor cells. The definition of these escape pathways and their preemptive inhibition will suggest effective new combination therapies for cancer.