AUTOPHAGY, vol.13, no.9, pp.1512-1527, 2017 (SCI-Expanded)
The ingrained capacity of melanoma cells to rapidly evolve toward an aggressive phenotype is manifested by their increased ability to develop drug-resistance, evident in the case of vemurafenib, a therapeuticagent targeting BRAF(V600E). Previous studies indicated a tight correlation between heightened melanomaassociated macroautophagy/autophagy and acquired Vemurafenib resistance. However, how this vesicular trafficking pathway supports Vemurafenib resistance remains unclear. Here, using isogenic human and murine melanoma cell lines of Vemurafenib-resistant and patient-derived melanoma cells with primary resistance to the BRAF(V600E) inhibitor, we found that the enhanced migration and invasion of the resistant melanoma cells correlated with an enhanced autophagic capacity and autophagosomemediated secretion of ATP. Extracellular ATP (eATP) was instrumental for the invasive phenotype and the expansion of a subset of Vemurafenib-resistant melanoma cells. Compromising the heightened autophagy in these BRAF(V600E) inhibitor-resistant melanoma cells through the knockdown of different autophagy genes (ATG5, ATG7, ULK1), reduced their invasive and eATP-secreting capacity. Furthermore, eATP promoted the aggressive nature of the BRAF(V600E) inhibitor-resistant melanoma cells by signaling through the purinergic receptor P2RX7. This autophagy-propelled eATP-dependent autocrine-paracrine pathway supported the maintenance and expansion of a drug-resistant melanoma phenotype. In conclusion, we have identified an autophagy-driven response that relies on the secretion of ATP to drive P2RX7-based migration and expansion of the Vemurafenib-resistant phenotype. This emphasizes the potential of targeting autophagy in the treatment and management of metastatic melanoma.