Exchange proteins directly activated by cAMP (EPAC) belong to a family of RAP guanine nucleotide exchange factors (RAPGEF). EPAC1/2 (RAPGEF3/4) activates RAP1 and the alternative cAMP signaling pathway. We previously showed that the differential growth response of primary and metastatic melanoma cells to cAMP is mediated by EPAC. However, the mechanisms responsible for this differential response to EPAC signaling are not understood. In this study, we show that pharmacologic inhibition or siRNA-mediated knockdown of EPAC selectively inhibits the growth and survival of primary melanoma cells by downregulation of cell-cycle proteins and inhibiting the cell-cycle progression independent of ERK1/2 phosphorylation. EPAC inhibition results in upregulation of AKT phosphorylation but a downregulation of mTORC1 activity and its downstream effectors. We also show that EPAC regulates both glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation, and production of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species, preferentially in primary melanoma cells. Employing a series of genetically matched primary and lymph node metastatic (LNM) melanoma cells, and distant organ metastatic melanoma cells, we show that the LNM and metastatic melanoma cells become progressively less responsive and refractory to EPAC inhibition suggesting loss of dependency on EPAC signaling correlates with melanoma progression. Analysis of The Cancer Genome Atlas dataset showed that lower RAPGEF3, RAPGEF4 mRNA expression in primary tumor is a predictor of better disease-free survival of patients diagnosed with primary melanoma suggesting that EPAC signaling facilitates tumor progression and EPAC is a useful prognostic marker. These data highlight EPAC signaling as a potential target for prevention of melanoma progression.

Implications:

This study establishes loss of dependency on EPAC-mTORC1 signaling as hallmark of primary melanoma evolution and targeting this escape mechanism is a promising strategy for metastatic melanoma.

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