Melanoma tumors metastasize at an early stage of development and are notoriously resistant to chemotherapeutics. We recently utilized a systems-level RNAi screening approach to uncover the molecular regulators of melanoma chemoresistance. These studies determined that RhoJ and its downstream kinase PAK1 suppress pathways in melanoma cells that sense DNA damage. Additional studies revealed that RhoJ and PAK1 also regulate melanoma invasion by modulating actin cytoskeletal dynamics. These observations led us to hypothesize that PAK kinases phosphorylate downstream targets that suppress DNA damage sensing and promote melanoma metastasis. In this proposal, we determine how PAK1 suppresses DNA damage sensing and determine whether Pak1 suppresses DNA damage sensing in vivo. Additional studies will identify PAK kinase targets that modulate melanoma cell invasion and verify that PAK kinases regulate melanoma metastasis in vivo. In the final aim of the proposal, we will examine whether PAK kinases are selectively activated in poor prognosis/chemoresistant human melanomas and determine whether PAK inhibitors can both sensitize mouse melanomas to chemotherapeutics and inhibit murine melanoma metastasis. Completion of these studies will lead to the design of more effective PAK inhibitors that can be used to treat metastatic melanoma.

Public Health Relevance

Melanoma cells metastasize at an early stage of tumor development and are resistant to conventional therapies, making these tumors particularly difficult to treat. In this application, we determine how PAK kinases promote melanoma invasion and chemoresistance and examine whether PAK inhibitors can sensitize melanoma tumors to chemotherapy and suppress metastasis in vivo. Completion of these studies will lead to the rapid design of improved synergistic chemotherapy regimens that will directly impact the care of patients afflicted by metastatic melanoma.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Tumor Progression and Metastasis Study Section (TPM)
Program Officer
Jhappan, Chamelli
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of California Irvine
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Realini, Natalia; Palese, Francesca; Pizzirani, Daniela et al. (2016) Acid Ceramidase in Melanoma: EXPRESSION, LOCALIZATION, AND EFFECTS OF PHARMACOLOGICAL INHIBITION. J Biol Chem 291:2422-34