Tumor and Systemic Immunomodulatory Effects of MEK Inhibition

Lauren Dennison, Aditya A. Mohan, Mark Yarchoan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Abstract: Purpose of Review: Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) kinase (MEK) is an integral component of the RAS signaling pathway, one of the most frequently mutated pathways in cancer biology. MEK inhibitors were initially developed to directly target oncogenic signaling, but are recognized to have pleiotropic effects on both tumor cells and lymphocytes. Here, we review the preclinical and clinical evidence that MEK inhibition is immunomodulatory and discuss the potential rationale for combining MEK inhibitors with systemic immunotherapies. Recent Findings: MEK inhibition may modulate the tumor microenvironment (TME) through direct effects on both tumor cells and immune cells. Despite encouraging evidence that MEK inhibition can reprogram the tumor microenvironment (TME) and augment anti-tumor immunity regardless of KRAS/BRAF status, recent clinical outcome studies combining MEK inhibition with systemic immunotherapy have yielded mixed results. The combination of MEK inhibitors plus systemic immunotherapies has been tolerable, but has thus far failed to demonstrate clear evidence of synergistic clinical activity. These results underscore the need to understand the appropriate therapeutic context for this combination. Summary: MEK inhibitors have the potential to inhibit oncogenic signaling and reprogram the tumor immune microenvironment, representing an attractive therapy to combine with systemic immunotherapies. Ongoing preclinical and clinical studies will further clarify the immunomodulatory effects of MEK inhibitors to inform the design of rational therapeutic combinations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number23
JournalCurrent oncology reports
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Immunotherapy
  • MAPK
  • MEK
  • PD-1
  • PD-L1
  • RAS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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