Tang, Y.C., Ho, S., Tan, E. et al. Functional genomics identifies specific vulnerabilities in PTEN-deficient breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res 20, 22 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13058-018-0949-3
Phosphatase and tensin homolog (PTEN) is one of the most frequently inactivated tumor suppressors in breast cancer. While PTEN itself is not considered a druggable target, PTEN synthetic-sick or synthetic-lethal (PTEN-SSL) genes are potential drug targets in PTEN-deficient breast cancers. Therefore, with the aim of identifying potential targets for precision breast cancer therapy, we sought to discover PTEN-SSL genes present in a broad spectrum of breast cancers.
To discover broad-spectrum PTEN-SSL genes in breast cancer, we used a multi-step approach that started with (1) a genome-wide short interfering RNA (siRNA) screen of ~ 21,000 genes in a pair of isogenic human mammary epithelial cell lines, followed by (2) a short hairpin RNA (shRNA) screen of ~ 1200 genes focused on hits from the first screen in a panel of 11 breast cancer cell lines; we then determined reproducibility of hits by (3) identification of overlaps between our results and reanalyzed data from 3 independent gene-essentiality screens, and finally, for selected candidate PTEN-SSL genes we (4) confirmed PTEN-SSL activity using either drug sensitivity experiments in a panel of 19 cell lines or mutual exclusivity analysis of publicly available pan-cancer somatic mutation data.
The screens (steps 1 and 2) and the reproducibility analysis (step 3) identified six candidate broad-spectrum PTEN-SSL genes (PIK3CB, ADAMTS20, AP1M2, HMMR, STK11, and NUAK1). PIK3CB was previously identified as PTEN-SSL, while the other five genes represent novel PTEN-SSL candidates. Confirmation studies (step 4) provided additional evidence that NUAK1 and STK11 have PTEN-SSL patterns of activity. Consistent with PTEN-SSL status, inhibition of the NUAK1 protein kinase by the small molecule drug HTH-01-015 selectively impaired viability in multiple PTEN-deficient breast cancer cell lines, while mutations affecting STK11 and PTEN were largely mutually exclusive across large pan-cancer data sets.
Six genes showed PTEN-SSL patterns of activity in a large proportion of PTEN-deficient breast cancer cell lines and are potential specific vulnerabilities in PTEN-deficient breast cancer. Furthermore, the NUAK1 PTEN-SSL vulnerability identified by RNA interference techniques can be recapitulated and exploited using the small molecule kinase inhibitor HTH-01-015. Thus, NUAK1 inhibition may be an effective strategy for precision treatment of PTEN-deficient breast tumors.
Funding was provided by the Singapore National Medical Research Council (NMRC/CIRG/1324/2012) and the Singapore Ministry of Health via the Duke-NUS Signature Research Programmes.