Inhibition of the MEK/ERK pathway augments nab-paclitaxelbased chemotherapy effects in preclinical models of pancreatic cancer

Niranjan Awasthi, Sheena Monahan, Alexis Stefaniak, Margaret A. Schwarz, Roderich E. Schwarz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


Nab-paclitaxel (NPT) combination with gemcitabine (Gem) represents the standard chemotherapy for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Genetic alterations of the RAS/RAF/MEK/ERK (MAPK) signaling pathway yielding constitutive activation of the ERK cascade have been implicated as drivers of PDAC. Inhibition of downstream targets in the RAS-MAPK cascade such as MEK remains a promising therapeutic strategy. The efficacy of trametinib (Tra), a small molecule inhibitor of MEK1/2 kinase activity, in combination with nab-paclitaxel-based chemotherapy was evaluated in preclinical models of PDAC. The addition of trametinib to chemotherapy regimens showed a trend for an additive effect on tumor growth inhibition in subcutaneous AsPC-1 and Panc-1 PDAC xenografts. In a peritoneal dissemination model, median animal survival compared to controls (20 days) was increased after therapy with NPT (33 days, a 65% increase), Tra (31 days, a 55% increase), NPT+Tra (37 days, a 85% increase), NPT+Gem (39 days, a 95% increase) and NPT+Gem+Tra (49 days, a 145% increase). Effects of therapy on intratumoral proliferation and apoptosis corresponded with tumor growth inhibition. Trametinib effects were specifically accompanied by a decrease in phospho-ERK and an increase in cleaved caspase-3 and cleaved PARP-1 proteins. These findings suggest that the effects of nab-paclitaxel-based chemotherapy can be enhanced through specific inhibition of MEK1/2 kinase activity, and supports the clinical application of trametinib in combination with standard nab-paclitaxel-based chemotherapy in PDAC patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5274-5286
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2018


  • Combination therapy
  • MEK inhibitor
  • Nab-paclitaxel
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Trametinib

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology

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