Recent mutational and translational studies have revealed that the Ras/Raf/mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK)/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) pathway plays a key role in melanomagenesis. Mutations in NRAS and BRAF are found in the majority of melanomas resulting in the formation of constitutively active NRAS and BRAF molecules, which leads to the proliferation and survival of melanoma cells through the activation of MEK/ERK signals. Inhibitors of BRAF or MEK significantly extend the progression-free survival and overall survival of melanoma patients compared with conventional chemotherapies. Combining BRAF and MEK inhibitors further enhances the clinical effectiveness. Cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4) is an immune checkpoint molecule that downregulates T-cell activation by binding to B7 (CD80/CD86) molecules on antigen-presenting cells. Programmed death receptor ligand 1 on melanoma cells negatively regulates T-cell function by binding to the programmed death-1 (PD-1) receptor on T cells. Antibodies against CTLA-4 and PD-1 also enhance the survival of melanoma patients. In this review, we summarize the clinical effectiveness and adverse events of the BRAF inhibitors, MEK inhibitors and anti-immune checkpoint antibodies in melanoma treatment.
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