Combination of drugs with different targets is a logical approach to overcome multilevel cross-stimulation among key pathways
in NSCLC progression such as EGFR, K-Ras and VEGFR. The sorafenib-erlotinib combination showed clinical activity and acceptable
safety. Therefore, we evaluated mechanisms underlying sorafenib-erlotinib interaction in seven NSCLC cell lines selected for
their heterogeneous pattern of EGFR and Raf-kinase-inhibitor protein (RKIP) expression, and EGFR/K-Ras mutations. Pharmacologic interaction
was studied using MTT/SRB assays and the combination index (CI) method, while effects on EGFR, Erk1/2 and Akt phosphorylation,
cell cycle and apoptosis were studied with western-blot, ELISA, and flow cytometry. Intracellular drug concentrations were
measured with LC-MS/MS, whereas kinase activity profiles were generated on tyrosine kinase peptide substrate arrays.
Synergism was detected in all cell lines, with CIs<0.6 in K-Ras mutated A549, SW1573 and H460, as well as in H1975 (EGFR-T790M)
cells. Sorafenib slowed cell cycle progression and induced apoptosis, which was significantly increased in the combination. Moreover,
sorafenib reduced Akt/ERK phosphorylation in erlotinib-resistant cells, associated with significant RKIP up-regulation. No direct drug
interaction was detected by LC-MS/MS measurement, while lysates from A549 and H1975 cells exposed to erlotinib+sorafenib showed a
significant inhibition in the phosphorylation of 16 overlapping peptides, including sites from RAF, VEGFR2, PDGFR, CDK2 and SRC,
suggesting new markers to identify NSCLC patients who are likely to respond to this treatment.
In conclusion, several mechanisms, including apoptosis-induction, modulation of expression/phosphorylation of RKIP and crucial
kinases contribute to erlotinib-sorafenib synergistic interaction and should be evaluated in future trials for the rational development of
this combination in NSCLC.