Loss of primary cilia drives switching from Hedgehog to Ras/MAPK pathway in resistant basal cell carcinoma. The Journal of investigative dermatology Kuonen, F., Huskey, N. E., Shankar, G., Jaju, P., Whitson, R. J., Rieger, K. E., Atwood, S. X., Sarin, K. Y., Oro, A. E. 2019


Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) rely on Hedgehog (HH) pathway growth signal amplification by the microtubule-based organelle, the primary cilium. Despite naive tumors responsiveness to Smoothened inhibitors (Smoi), resistance in advanced tumors remains frequent. While the resistant BCCs usually maintain HH pathway activation, squamous cell carcinomas with Ras/MAPK pathway activation also arise, with the molecular basis of tumor type and pathway selection still obscure. Here we identify the primary cilium as a critical determinant controlling tumor pathway switching. Strikingly, Smoi-resistant BCCs possess an increased mutational load in ciliome genes, resulting in reduced primary cilia and HH pathway activation compared to naive or Gorlin patient BCCs. Gene set enrichment analysis of resistant BCCs with a low HH pathway signature reveals increased Ras/MAPK pathway activation. Tissue analysis confirms an inverse relationship between primary cilia presence and Ras/MAPK activation, and primary cilia removal in BCCs potentiates Ras/MAPK pathway activation. Moreover, activating Ras in HH-responsive cell lines confers resistance to both canonical (vismodegib) and non-canonical (aPKC and MRTF inhibitors) HH pathway inhibitors, while conferring sensitivity to MAPK inhibitors. Our results provide insights into BCC treatment and identify the primary cilium as an important lineage gatekeeper, preventing HH to Ras/MAPK pathway switching.

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