A chemical genetic screen identifies Aurora kinases as a therapeutic target in EGFR T790M negative, gefitinib-resistant head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)

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A chemical genetic screen identifies Aurora kinases as a therapeutic target in EGFR T790M negative, gefitinib-resistant head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)
Title:
A chemical genetic screen identifies Aurora kinases as a therapeutic target in EGFR T790M negative, gefitinib-resistant head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC)
Other Titles:
EBioMedicine
Publication Date:
30 January 2021
Citation:
Low, J.-L., Lau, D. P., Zhang, X., Kwang, X.-L., Rohatgi, N., Chan, J. V., … DasGupta, R. (2021). A chemical genetic screen identifies Aurora kinases as a therapeutic target in EGFR T790M negative, gefitinib-resistant head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC). EBioMedicine, 64, 103220. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2021.103220
Abstract:
Overexpression of epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), and downstream pathway activation appears to be a common oncogenic driver in the majority of head and neck squamous cell cancers (HNSCCs); yet targeting EGFR for the treatment of HNSCC has met with limited success. Apart from the anti- EGFR antibody cetuximab, no small molecule EGFR/tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) have progressed to routine clinical use. The aim of this study was to determine factors contributing to the lack of response to TKIs and identify alternative therapeutic vulnerabilities. Methods: Genomic and transcriptomic sequencing, high-throughput compound screens, overexpression and siRNA knockdown, western blot, in vivo xenograft studies. Findings: We derived three pairs of isogenic gefitinib (TKI)-sensitive and resistant patient-derived HNSCC cell lines. Genomic sequencing of gefitinib-resistant cell lines identified a lack of activating and resistance-associated EGFR mutations. Instead, transcriptomic sequencing showed upregulated EMT gene signature in the gefitinib-resistant cells with a corresponding increase in their migratory phenotype. Additionally, the resistant cell displayed reduced growth rate. Surprisingly, while gefitinib-resistant cells were independent of EGFR for survival, they nonetheless displayed activation of downstream ERK and AKT signalling. Highthroughput screening (HTS) of druggable, small molecule libraries revealed that the gefitinib-resistant cells were particularly sensitive to inhibitors of genes involved in cell cycle and mitosis, such as Aurora kinase inhibitors (AKIs), cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitors, and microtubule inhibitors. Notably our results showed that in the EGFR inhibited state, Aurora kinases are essential for cell survival. Interpretation: Our study demonstrates that in the absence of activating EGFR mutations, HNSCCs may gain resistance to gefitinib through decreased cell proliferation, which makes them exceptionally vulnerable to cell-cycle inhibitors.
License type:
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Funding Info:
This research / project is supported by the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) - Clinician-Scientist Individual Research Grant
Grant Reference no. : NMRC/CIRG/1434/2015

This research / project is supported by the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) - Clinician-Scientist Awards
Grant Reference no. : NMRC/CSA-INV/0011/2016

This research / project is supported by the National Institutes of Health / National Cancer Institute - NIH RO1 grant
Grant Reference no. : 1R01CA155125-01

This research / project is supported by the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) - Clinician Scientist Award (CSA)
Grant Reference no. : MOH-000325- 00

This research is supported by core funding from: Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
Grant Reference no. :
Description:
ISSN:
2352-3964
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