Resistance to current therapies still impacts a significant number of melanoma patients and can be regulated by epigenetic alterations. Analysis of global cytosine methylation in a cohort of primary melanomas revealed a pattern of early demethylation associated with overexpression of oncogenic transcripts. Loss of methylation and associated overexpression of the CSF 1 receptor (CSF1R) was seen in a majority of tumors and was driven by an alternative, endogenous viral promoter in a subset of samples. CSF1R was particularly elevated in melanomas with BRAF and other MAPK activating mutations. Furthermore, rebound ERK activation after BRAF inhibition was associated with RUNX1-mediated further upregulation of CSF-1R and its ligand IL-34. Importantly, increased CSF-1R and IL-34 overexpression were detected in an independent cohort of resistant melanomas. Inhibition of CSF-1R kinase or decreased CSF-1R expression by RNAi reduced 3-D growth and invasiveness of melanoma cells. Coinhibition of CSF-1R and BRAF resulted in synergistic efficacy in vivo. To our knowledge, our data unveil a previously unknown role for the autocrine-regulated CSF-1R in BRAF V600E resistance and provide a preclinical rationale for targeting this pathway in melanoma.
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