Small molecule inhibitors of BRAF and MEK have proven effective at inhibiting tumor growth in melanoma patients, however this efficacy is limited due to the almost universal development of drug resistance. To provide advanced insight into the signaling responses that occur following kinase inhibition we have performed quantitative (phospho)-proteomics of human melanoma cells treated with either dabrafenib, a BRAF inhibitor; trametinib, a MEK inhibitor or SCH772984, an ERK inhibitor. Over nine experiments we identified 7827 class I phosphorylation sites on 4960 proteins. This included 54 phosphorylation sites that were significantly down-modulated after exposure to all three inhibitors, 34 of which have not been previously reported. Functional analysis of these novel ERK targets identified roles for them in GTPase activity and regulation, apoptosis and cell-cell adhesion. Comparison of the results presented here with previously reported phosphorylation sites downstream of ERK showed a limited degree of overlap suggesting that ERK signaling responses may be highly cell line and cue specific. In addition we identified 26 phosphorylation sites that were only responsive to dabrafenib. We provide further orthogonal experimental evidence for 3 of these sites in human embryonic kidney cells over-expressing BRAF as well as further computational insights using KinomeXplorer. The validated phosphorylation sites were found to be involved in actin regulation, which has been proposed as a novel mechanism for inhibiting resistance development. These results would suggest that the linearity of the BRAF-MEK-ERK module is at least context dependent.
Human NimA-related kinases (Neks) have multiple mitotic and non-mitotic functions, but few substrates are known. We systematically determined the phosphorylation-site motifs for the entire Nek kinase family, except for Nek11. While all Nek kinases strongly select for hydrophobic residues in the -3 position, the family separates into four distinct groups based on specificity for a serine versus threonine phospho-acceptor, and preference for basic or acidic residues in other positions. Unlike Nek1-Nek9, Nek10 is a dual-specificity kinase that efficiently phosphorylates itself and peptide substrates on serine and tyrosine, and its activity is enhanced by tyrosine auto-phosphorylation. Nek10 dual-specificity depends on residues in the HRD+2 and APE-4 positions that are uncommon in either serine/threonine or tyrosine kinases. Finally, we show that the phosphorylation-site motifs for the mitotic kinases Nek6, Nek7 and Nek9 are essentially identical to that of their upstream activator Plk1, suggesting that Nek6/7/9 function as phospho-motif amplifiers of Plk1 signaling.
Phosphoregulation, in which the addition of a negatively charged phosphate group modulates protein activity, enables dynamic cellular responses. To understand how new phosphoregulation might be acquired, we mutationally scanned the surface of a prototypical yeast kinase (Kss1) to identify potential regulatory sites. The data revealed a set of spatially distributed “hotspots” that might have coevolved with the active site and preferentially modulated kinase activity. By engineering simple consensus phosphorylation sites at these hotspots, we rewired cell signaling in yeast. Using the same approach with a homolog yeast mitogen-activated protein kinase, Hog1, we introduced new phosphoregulation that modified its localization and signaling dynamics. Beyond revealing potential use in synthetic biology, our findings suggest that the identified hotspots contribute to the diversity of natural allosteric regulatory mechanisms in the eukaryotic kinome and, given that some are mutated in cancers, understanding these hotspots may have clinical relevance to human disease.
The functional diversity of kinases enables specificity in cellular signal transduction. Yet how more than 500 members of the human kinome specifically receive regulatory inputs and convey information to appropriate substrates-all while using the common signaling output of phosphorylation-remains enigmatic. Here, we perform statistical co-evolution analysis, mutational scanning, and quantitative live-cell assays to reveal a hierarchical organization of the kinase domain that facilitates the orthogonal evolution of regulatory inputs and substrate outputs while maintaining catalytic function. We find that three quasi-independent “sectors”-groups of evolutionarily coupled residues-represent functional units in the kinase domain that encode for catalytic activity, substrate specificity, and regulation. Sector positions impact both disease and pharmacology: the catalytic sector is significantly enriched for somatic cancer mutations, and residues in the regulatory sector interact with allosteric kinase inhibitors. We propose that this functional architecture endows the kinase domain with inherent regulatory plasticity.
The prevailing approach to addressing secondary drug resistance in cancer focuses on treating the resistance mechanisms at relapse. However, the dynamic nature of clonal evolution, along with potential fitness costs and cost compensations, may present exploitable vulnerabilities-a notion that we term “temporal collateral sensitivity.” Using a combined pharmacological screen and drug resistance selection approach in a murine model of Ph(+) acute lymphoblastic leukemia, we indeed find that temporal and/or persistent collateral sensitivity to non-classical BCR-ABL1 drugs arises in emergent tumor subpopulations during the evolution of resistance toward initial treatment with BCR-ABL1-targeted inhibitors. We determined the sensitization mechanism via genotypic, phenotypic, signaling, and binding measurements in combination with computational models and demonstrated significant overall survival extension in mice. Additional stochastic mathematical models and small-molecule screens extended our insights, indicating the value of focusing on evolutionary trajectories and pharmacological profiles to identify new strategies to treat dynamic tumor vulnerabilities.
Protein kinases control cellular responses to environmental cues by swift and accurate signal processing. Breakdowns in this high-fidelity capability are a driving force in cancer and other diseases. Thus, our limited understanding of which amino acids in the kinase domain encode substrate specificity, the so-called determinants of specificity (DoS), constitutes a major obstacle in cancer signaling. Here, we systematically discover several DoS and experimentally validate three of them, named the αC1, αC3, and APE-7 residues. We demonstrate that DoS form sparse networks of non-conserved residues spanning distant regions. Our results reveal a likely role for inter-residue allostery in specificity and an evolutionary decoupling of kinase activity and specificity, which appear loaded on independent groups of residues. Finally, we uncover similar properties driving SH2 domain specificity and demonstrate how the identification of DoS can be utilized to elucidate a greater understanding of the role of signaling networks in cancer (Creixell et al., 2015 [this issue of Cell]).
Cancer cells acquire pathological phenotypes through accumulation of mutations that perturb signaling networks. However, global analysis of these events is currently limited. Here, we identify six types of network-attacking mutations (NAMs), including changes in kinase and SH2 modulation, network rewiring, and the genesis and extinction of phosphorylation sites. We developed a computational platform (ReKINect) to identify NAMs and systematically interpreted the exomes and quantitative (phospho-)proteomes of five ovarian cancer cell lines and the global cancer genome repository. We identified and experimentally validated several NAMs, including PKCγ M501I and PKD1 D665N, which encode specificity switches analogous to the appearance of kinases de novo within the kinome. We discover mutant molecular logic gates, a drift toward phospho-threonine signaling, weakening of phosphorylation motifs, and kinase-inactivating hotspots in cancer. Our method pinpoints functional NAMs, scales with the complexity of cancer genomes and cell signaling, and may enhance our capability to therapeutically target tumor-specific networks.
Genomic information on tumors from 50 cancer types cataloged by the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) shows that only a few well-studied driver genes are frequently mutated, in contrast to many infrequently mutated genes that may also contribute to tumor biology. Hence there has been large interest in developing pathway and network analysis methods that group genes and illuminate the processes involved. We provide an overview of these analysis techniques and show where they guide mechanistic and translational investigations.
Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is an endogenous secreted peptide and, in preclinical studies, preferentially induces apoptosis in tumor cells rather than in normal cells. The acquisition of resistance in cells exposed to TRAIL or its mimics limits their clinical efficacy. Because kinases are intimately involved in the regulation of apoptosis, we systematically characterized kinases involved in TRAIL signaling. Using RNA interference (RNAi) loss-of-function and cDNA overexpression screens, we identified 169 protein kinases that influenced the dynamics of TRAIL-induced apoptosis in the colon adenocarcinoma cell line DLD-1. We classified the kinases as sensitizers or resistors or modulators, depending on the effect that knockdown and overexpression had on TRAIL-induced apoptosis. Two of these kinases that were classified as resistors were PX domain-containing serine/threonine kinase (PXK) and AP2-associated kinase 1 (AAK1), which promote receptor endocytosis and may enable cells to resist TRAIL-induced apoptosis by enhancing endocytosis of the TRAIL receptors. We assembled protein interaction maps using mass spectrometry-based protein interaction analysis and quantitative phosphoproteomics. With these protein interaction maps, we modeled information flow through the networks and identified apoptosis-modifying kinases that are highly connected to regulated substrates downstream of TRAIL. The results of this analysis provide a resource of potential targets for the development of TRAIL combination therapies to selectively kill cancer cells.
A major challenge in mass spectrometry and other large-scale applications is how to handle, integrate, and model the data that is produced. Given the speed at which technology advances and the need to keep pace with biological experiments, we designed a computational platform, CoreFlow, which provides programmers with a framework to manage data in real-time. It allows users to upload data into a relational database (MySQL), and to create custom scripts in high-level languages such as R, Python, or Perl for processing, correcting and modeling this data. CoreFlow organizes these scripts into project-specific pipelines, tracks interdependencies between related tasks, and enables the generation of summary reports as well as publication-quality images. As a result, the gap between experimental and computational components of a typical large-scale biology project is reduced, decreasing the time between data generation, analysis and manuscript writing. CoreFlow is being released to the scientific community as an open-sourced software package complete with proteomics-specific examples, which include corrections for incomplete isotopic labeling of peptides (SILAC) or arginine-to-proline conversion, and modeling of multiple/selected reaction monitoring (MRM/SRM) results.