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Molecular Cancer Therapeutics

The hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway is activated in many types of cancer and therefore presents an attractive target for new anticancer agents. Here, we show that mebendazole, a benzamidazole with a long history of safe use against nematode infestations and hydatid disease, potently inhibited Hh signaling and slowed the growth of Hh-driven human medulloblastoma cells at clinically attainable concentrations. As an antiparasitic, mebendazole avidly binds nematode tubulin and causes inhibition of intestinal microtubule synthesis. In human cells, mebendazole suppressed the formation of the primary cilium, a microtubule-based organelle that functions as a signaling hub for Hh pathway activation. The inhibition of Hh signaling by mebendazole was unaffected by mutants in the gene that encodes human Smoothened (SMO), which are selectively propagated in cell clones that survive treatment with the Hh inhibitor vismodegib. Combination of vismodegib and mebendazole resulted in additive Hh signaling inhibition. Because mebendazole can be safely administered to adults and children at high doses over extended time periods, we propose that mebendazole could be rapidly repurposed and clinically tested as a prospective therapeutic agent for many tumors that are dependent on Hh signaling. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 3–13. ©2014 AACR.


The molecular chaperone HSP90 plays a crucial role in cancer cell growth and survival by stabilizing cancer-related proteins. A number of HSP90 inhibitors have been developed clinically for cancer therapy; however, potential off-target and/or HSP90-related toxicities have proved problematic. The 4-(1H-pyrazolo[3,4-b]pyridine-1-yl)benzamide TAS-116 is a selective inhibitor of cytosolic HSP90α and β that does not inhibit HSP90 paralogs such as endoplasmic reticulum GRP94 or mitochondrial TRAP1. Oral administration of TAS-116 led to tumor shrinkage in human tumor xenograft mouse models accompanied by depletion of multiple HSP90 clients, demonstrating that the inhibition of HSP90α and β alone was sufficient to exert antitumor activity in certain tumor models. One of the most notable HSP90-related adverse events universally observed to differing degrees in the clinical setting is visual disturbance. A two-week administration of the isoxazole resorcinol NVP-AUY922, an HSP90 inhibitor, caused marked degeneration and disarrangement of the outer nuclear layer of the retina and induced photoreceptor cell death in rats. In contrast, TAS-116 did not produce detectable photoreceptor injury in rats, probably due to its lower distribution in retinal tissue. Importantly, in a rat model, the antitumor activity of TAS-116 was accompanied by a higher distribution of the compound in subcutaneously xenografted NCI-H1975 non–small cell lung carcinoma tumors than in retina. Moreover, TAS-116 showed activity against orthotopically transplanted NCI-H1975 lung tumors. Together, these data suggest that TAS-116 has a potential to maximize antitumor activity while minimizing adverse effects such as visual disturbances that are observed with other compounds of this class. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 14–22. ©2014 AACR.


Prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in men in the United States. A major cause of drug resistance in prostate and other epithelial tumors may be due to the presence of a fraction of tumor cells that retain the ability to initiate tumors and hence are termed tumor-initiating cells (TIC) or cancer stem cells. Here, we report that darinaparsin, an organic derivative of arsenic trioxide, is cytotoxic to prostate cancer cell lines as well as fresh prostate cancer cells from patients at low micromolar concentrations, and importantly inhibits the TIC subpopulations. It also inhibits growth of the castrate-resistant Du145 prostate tumor propagated as xenograft in mice and inhibits the tumor-initiating potential of prostate cancer cells. Although the mechanism by which darinaparsin acts is not completely known, we show that it kills prostate cancer cells by blocking cells in the G2–M phase of the cell cycle and inhibits Hedgehog signaling by downregulating Gli-2 transcriptional activity. These data provide a rationale for evaluating darinaparsin in patients with castrate-resistant prostate cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 23–30. ©2014 AACR.


Choline kinase α (CHKA; here designated as ChoKα) is the first enzyme in the CDP-choline pathway, implicated in phospholipids metabolism. It is overexpressed in several human tumors such as breast, lung, bladder, colorectal, prostate, ovary, and liver. The overexpression of ChoKα has oncogenic potential and synergizes with other known oncogenes. It has been proposed as a novel cancer drug target with a distinct mechanism of action. We have generated a set of ChoKα inhibitors with potent in vitro antiproliferative and in vivo antitumoral activity against human xenografts in mice, showing high efficacy with low toxicity profiles. Among these inhibitors, RSM-932A has been chosen for further clinical development due to its potent antiproliferative activity in vitro against a large variety of tumor-derived cell lines, a potent in vivo anticancer activity, and lack of toxicity at the effective doses. Here, we provide the preclinical evidence to support the use of RSM-932A as a good candidate to be tested in clinical trials as the "first in humans" drug targeting ChoKα. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 31–39. ©2014 AACR.


Activating mutations in the KRAS oncogene occur in approximately 90% of pancreatic cancers, resulting in aberrant activation of the MAPK and the PI3K pathways, driving malignant progression. Significant efforts to develop targeted inhibitors of nodes within these pathways are underway and several are currently in clinical trials for patients with KRAS-mutant tumors, including patients with pancreatic cancer. To model MEK and PI3K inhibition in late-stage pancreatic cancer, we conducted preclinical trials with a mutant Kras-driven genetically engineered mouse model that faithfully recapitulates human pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma development. Treatment of advanced disease with either a MEK (GDC-0973) or PI3K inhibitor (GDC-0941) alone showed modest tumor growth inhibition and did not significantly enhance overall survival. However, combination of the two agents resulted in a significant survival advantage as compared with control tumor-bearing mice. To model the clinical scenario, we also evaluated the combination of these targeted agents with gemcitabine, the current standard-of-care chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. The addition of MEK or PI3K inhibition to gemcitabine, or the triple combination regimen, incrementally enhanced overall survival as compared with gemcitabine alone. These results are reminiscent of the survival advantage conferred in this model and in patients by the combination of gemcitabine and erlotinib, an approved therapeutic regimen for advanced nonresectable pancreatic cancer. Taken together, these data indicate that inhibition of MEK and PI3K alone or in combination with chemotherapy do not confer a dramatic improvement as compared with currently available therapies for patients with pancreatic cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 40–47. ©2014 AACR.


Loss of PTEN protein results in upregulation of the PI3K/AKT pathway, which appears dependent on the PI3Kβ isoform. Inhibitors of PI3Kβ have potential to reduce growth of tumors in which loss of PTEN drives tumor progression. We have developed a small-molecule inhibitor of PI3Kβ and PI3K (AZD8186) and assessed its antitumor activity across a panel of cell lines. We have then explored the antitumor effects as single agent and in combination with docetaxel in triple-negative breast (TNBC) and prostate cancer models. In vitro, AZD8186 inhibited growth of a range of cell lines. Sensitivity was associated with inhibition of the AKT pathway. Cells sensitive to AZD8186 (GI50 < 1 μmol/L) are enriched for, but not exclusively associated with, PTEN deficiency. In vivo, AZD8186 inhibits PI3K pathway biomarkers in prostate and TNBC tumors. Scheduling treatment with AZD8186 shows antitumor activity required only intermittent exposure, and that increased tumor control is achieved when AZD8186 is used in combination with docetaxel. AZD8186 is a potent inhibitor of PI3Kβ with activity against PI3K signaling, and has potential to reduce growth of tumors dependent on dysregulated PTEN for growth. Moreover, AZD8186 can be combined with docetaxel, a chemotherapy commonly used to treat advanced TBNC and prostate tumors. The ability to schedule AZD8186 and maintain efficacy offers opportunity to combine AZD8186 more effectively with other drugs. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 48–58. ©2014 AACR.


VT-464 is a novel, nonsteroidal, small-molecule CYP17A1 inhibitor with 17,20-lyase selectivity. This study evaluates the anticancer activity of VT-464 compared with abiraterone (ABI) in castrate-resistant prostate cancer cell lines and xenograft models that are enzalutamide (ENZ)-responsive (C4-2) or ENZ-resistant (MR49C, MR49F). In vitro, androgen receptor (AR) transactivation was assessed by probasin luciferase reporter, whereas AR and AR-regulated genes and steroidogenic pathway enzymes were assessed by Western blot and/or qRT-PCR. The MR49F xenograft model was used to compare effects of oral VT-464 treatment to vehicle and abiraterone acetate (AA). Steroid concentrations were measured using LC-MS chromatography. VT-464 demonstrated a greater decrease in AR transactivation compared with ABI in C4-2 and both ENZ-resistant cell lines. At the gene and protein level, VT-464 suppressed the AR axis to a greater extent compared with ABI. Gene transcripts StAR, CYP17A1, HSD17B3, and SRD5A1 increased following treatment with ABI and to a greater extent with VT-464. In vivo, intratumoral androgen levels were significantly lower after VT-464 or AA treatment compared with vehicle, with the greatest decrease seen with VT-464. Similarly, tumor growth inhibition and PSA decrease trends were greater with VT-464 than with AA. Finally, an AR-antagonist effect of VT-464 independent of CYP17A1 inhibition was observed using luciferase reporter assays, and a direct interaction was confirmed using an AR ligand binding domain biolayer interferometry. These preclinical results suggest greater suppression of the AR axis with VT-464 than ABI that is likely due to both superior selective suppression of androgen synthesis and AR antagonism. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 59–69. ©2014 AACR.


Cranial irradiation is a standard therapy for primary and metastatic brain tumors. A major drawback of radiotherapy (RT), however, is long-term cognitive loss that affects quality of life. Radiation-induced oxidative stress in normal brain tissue is thought to contribute to cognitive decline. We evaluated the effectiveness of a novel mimic of superoxide dismutase enzyme (SOD), MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+(Mn(III) meso-tetrakis(N-n-butoxyethylpyridinium-2-yl)porphyrin), to provide long-term neuroprotection following 8 Gy of whole brain irradiation. Long-term RT damage can only be assessed by brain imaging and neurocognitive studies. C57BL/6J mice were treated with MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+ before and after RT and evaluated three months later. At this time point, drug concentration in the brain was 25 nmol/L. Mice treated with MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+/RT exhibited MRI evidence for myelin preservation in the corpus callosum compared with saline/RT treatment. Corpus callosum histology demonstrated a significant loss of axons in the saline/RT group that was rescued in the MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+/RT group. In addition, the saline/RT groups exhibited deficits in motor proficiency as assessed by the rotorod test and running wheel tests. These deficits were ameliorated in groups treated with MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+/RT. Our data demonstrate that MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+ is neuroprotective for oxidative stress damage caused by radiation exposure. In addition, glioblastoma cells were not protected by MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+ combination with radiation in vitro. Likewise, the combination of MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+ with radiation inhibited tumor growth more than RT alone in flank tumors. In summary, MnTnBuOE-2-PyP5+ has dual activity as a neuroprotector and a tumor radiosensitizer. Thus, it is an attractive candidate for adjuvant therapy with RT in future studies with patients with brain cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 70–79. ©2014 AACR.


Despite much effort, pancreatic cancer survival rates are still dismally low. Novel therapeutics may hold the key to improving survival. YM155 is a small molecule inhibitor that has shown antitumor activity in a number of cancers by reducing the expression of survivin. The aim of our study is to understand the mechanisms by which YM155 functions in pancreatic cancer cells. We established the antitumor effect of YM155 with in vitro studies in cultured cells, and in vivo studies using a mouse xenograft model. Our data demonstrated that YM155 reduced the expression of survivin; however, downregulation of survivin itself is insufficient to induce apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells. We showed for the first time that treatment with YM155 increased death receptor 5 (DR5) expression in pancreatic cancer cells. We found that YM155 induced apoptosis by broad-spectrum inhibition of IAP family member proteins (e.g., CIAP1/2 and FLIP) and induced proapoptotic Bak protein upregulation and activation; the antitumor effect of YM155 treatment with either the DR5 agonist lexatumumab or gemcitabine on pancreatic cancer cells was synergistic. Our data also revealed that YM155 inhibits tumor growth in vivo, without apparent toxicity to the noncancerous human pancreatic ductal epithelial cell line. Together, these findings suggest that YM155 could be a novel therapeutic agent for pancreatic cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 80–89. ©2014 AACR.


Despite early positive response to platinum-based chemotherapy, the majority of ovarian carcinomas develop resistance and progress to fatal disease. Protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) is a ubiquitous phosphatase involved in the regulation of DNA-damage response (DDR) and cell-cycle checkpoint pathways. Recent studies have shown that LB100, a small-molecule inhibitor of PP2A, sensitizes cancer cells to radiation-mediated DNA damage. We hypothesized that LB100 could sensitize ovarian cancer cells to cisplatin treatment. We performed in vitro studies in SKOV-3, OVCAR-8, and PEO1, -4, and -6 ovarian cancer lines to assess cytotoxicity potentiation, cell-death mechanism(s), cell-cycle regulation, and DDR signaling. In vivo studies were conducted in an intraperitoneal metastatic mouse model using SKOV-3/f-Luc cells. LB100 sensitized ovarian carcinoma lines to cisplatin-mediated cell death. Sensitization via LB100 was mediated by abrogation of cell-cycle arrest induced by cisplatin. Loss of the cisplatin-induced checkpoint correlated with decreased Wee1 expression, increased cdc2 activation, and increased mitotic entry (p-histone H3). LB100 also induced constitutive hyperphosphorylation of DDR proteins (BRCA1, Chk2, and H2AX), altered the chronology and persistence of JNK activation, and modulated the expression of 14-3-3 binding sites. In vivo, cisplatin sensitization via LB100 significantly enhanced tumor growth inhibition and prevented disease progression after treatment cessation. Our results suggest that LB100 sensitizes ovarian cancer cells to cisplatin in vitro and in vivo by modulation of the DDR pathway and cell-cycle checkpoint abrogation. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 90–100. ©2014 AACR.


Alternative pathways to the VEGF, such as hepatocyte growth factor or HGF/c-met, are emerging as key players in tumor angiogenesis and resistance to anti-VEGF therapies. The aim of this study was to assess the effects of a combination strategy targeting the VEGF and c-met pathways in clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) models. Male SCID mice (8/group) were implanted with 786-O tumor pieces and treated with either a selective VEGF receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor, axitinib (36 mg/kg, 2x/day); a c-met inhibitor, crizotinib (25 mg/kg, 1x/day); or combination. We further tested this drug combination in a human ccRCC patient–derived xenograft, RP-R-01, in both VEGF-targeted therapy-sensitive and -resistant models. To evaluate the resistant phenotype, we established an RP-R-01 sunitinib-resistant model by continuous sunitinib treatment (60 mg/kg, 1x/day) of RP-R-01–bearing mice. Treatment with single-agent crizotinib reduced tumor vascularization but failed to inhibit tumor growth in either model, despite also a significant increase of c-met expression and phosphorylation in the sunitinib-resistant tumors. In contrast, axitinib treatment was effective in inhibiting angiogenesis and tumor growth in both models, with its antitumor effect significantly increased by the combined treatment with crizotinib, independently from c-met expression. Combination treatment also induced prolonged survival and significant tumor growth inhibition in the 786-O human RCC model. Overall, our results support the rationale for the clinical testing of combined VEGF and HGF/c-met pathway blockade in the treatment of ccRCC, both in first- and second-line setting. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 101–10. ©2014 AACR.


The cellular responses to two new temozolomide (TMZ) analogues, DP68 and DP86, acting against glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) cell lines and primary culture models are reported. Dose–response analysis of cultured GBM cells revealed that DP68 is more potent than DP86 and TMZ and that DP68 was effective even in cell lines resistant to TMZ. On the basis of a serial neurosphere assay, DP68 inhibits repopulation of these cultures at low concentrations. The efficacy of these compounds was independent of MGMT and MMR functions. DP68-induced interstrand DNA cross-links were demonstrated with H2O2-treated cells. Furthermore, DP68 induced a distinct cell–cycle arrest with accumulation of cells in S phase that is not observed for TMZ. Consistent with this biologic response, DP68 induces a strong DNA damage response, including phosphorylation of ATM, Chk1 and Chk2 kinases, KAP1, and histone variant H2AX. Suppression of FANCD2 expression or ATR expression/kinase activity enhanced antiglioblastoma effects of DP68. Initial pharmacokinetic analysis revealed rapid elimination of these drugs from serum. Collectively, these data demonstrate that DP68 is a novel and potent antiglioblastoma compound that circumvents TMZ resistance, likely as a result of its independence from MGMT and mismatch repair and its capacity to cross-link strands of DNA. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 111–9. ©2014 AACR.


Tumor-specific tissue-penetrating peptides deliver drugs into extravascular tumor tissue by increasing tumor vascular permeability through interaction with neuropilin (NRP). Here, we report that a prototypic tumor-penetrating peptide iRGD (amino acid sequence: CRGDKGPDC) potently inhibits spontaneous metastasis in mice. The antimetastatic effect was mediated by the NRP-binding RXXK peptide motif (CendR motif), and not by the integrin-binding RGD motif. iRGD inhibited migration of tumor cells and caused chemorepulsion in vitro in a CendR- and NRP-1–dependent manner. The peptide induced dramatic collapse of cellular processes and partial cell detachment, resulting in the repellent activity. These effects were prominently displayed when the cells were seeded on fibronectin, suggesting a role of CendR in functional regulation of integrins. The antimetastatic activity of iRGD may provide a significant additional benefit when this peptide is used for drug delivery to tumors. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 120–8. ©2014 AACR.


Anti-HER2 monoclonal antibodies (mAb) have been shown to reduce tumor size and increase survival in patients with breast cancer, but they are ineffective against brain metastases due to poor brain penetration. In previous studies, we identified a peptide, known as Angiopep-2 (An2), which crosses the blood–brain barrier (BBB) efficiently via receptor-mediated transcytosis, and, when conjugated, endows small molecules and peptides with this property. Extending this strategy to higher molecular weight biologics, we now demonstrate that a conjugate between An2 and an anti-HER2 mAb results in a new chemical entity, ANG4043, which retains in vitro binding affinity for the HER2 receptor and antiproliferative potency against HER2-positive BT-474 breast ductal carcinoma cells. Unlike the native mAb, ANG4043 binds LRP1 clusters and is taken up by LRP1-expressing cells. Measuring brain exposure after intracarotid delivery, we demonstrate that the new An2–mAb conjugate penetrates the BBB with a rate of brain entry (Kin) of 1.6 x 10–3 mL/g/s. Finally, in mice with intracranially implanted BT-474 xenografts, systemically administered ANG4043 increases survival. Overall, this study demonstrates that the incorporation of An2 to the anti-HER2 mAb confers properties of increased uptake in brain endothelial cells as well as BBB permeability. These characteristics of ANG4043 result in higher exposure levels in BT-474 brain tumors and prolonged survival following systemic treatment. Moreover, the data further validate the An2–drug conjugation strategy as a way to create brain-penetrant biologics for neuro-oncology and other CNS indications. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 129–40. ©2014 AACR.


Near infrared photoimmunotherapy (NIR-PIT) is a new cancer treatment that combines the specificity of intravenously injected antibodies for targeting tumors with the toxicity induced by photosensitizers after exposure to near infrared (NIR) light. Herein, we evaluate the efficacy of NIR-PIT in a mouse model of disseminated peritoneal ovarian cancer. In vitro and in vivo experiments were conducted with a HER2-expressing, luciferase-expressing, ovarian cancer cell line (SKOV-luc). An antibody–photosensitizer conjugate (APC) consisting of trastuzumab and a phthalocyanine dye, IRDye-700DX, was synthesized (tra-IR700) and cells or tumors were exposed to NIR light. In vitro PIT cytotoxicity was assessed with dead staining and luciferase activity in freely growing cells and in a three-dimensional (3D) spheroid model. In vivo NIR-PIT was performed in mice with tumors implanted in the peritoneum and in the flank and these were assessed by tumor volume and/or bioluminescence. In vitro NIR-PIT–induced cytotoxicity was light dose dependent. Repeated light exposures induced complete tumor cell killing in the 3D spheroid model. In vivo the antitumor effects of NIR-PIT were confirmed by significant reductions in both tumor volume and luciferase activity in the flank model (NIR-PIT vs. control in tumor volume changes at day 10, P = 0.0001; NIR-PIT vs. control in luciferase activity at day 4, P = 0.0237), and the peritoneal model (NIR-PIT vs. control in luciferase activity at day 7, P = 0.0037). NIR-PIT provided effective cell killing in this HER2-positive model of disseminated peritoneal ovarian cancer. Thus, NIR-PIT is a promising new therapy for the treatment of disseminated peritoneal tumors. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 141–50. ©2014 AACR.


Monoclonal antibodies have long in vivo half-lives and reach high concentrations in tumors but cannot access all regions in the tissue, whereas smaller ligands such as peptides distribute better but are limited by low concentrations due to fast renal clearance. A potential solution to this problem might be offered by peptide-based ligands that are conjugated to an albumin-binding tag, and thus have a long plasma half-life. Herein, we tested if a small ligand based on a bicyclic peptide (1.9 kDa) conjugated to an albumin-binding peptide (2.3 kDa) can diffuse into tissues. Although the peptide conjugate (4.6 kDa) was most of the time bound to the large protein serum albumin (66.5 kDa), it diffused deeply into tissues and reached high nanomolar concentrations in wide areas of solid tumors. Most of the peptide conjugate isolated from tumor tissue was found to be fully intact 24 hours after administration. Because of its noncovalent interaction with albumin, the bicyclic peptide might dissociate to diffuse to tumor regions that are not accessible to larger ligands. Bicyclic peptides having high binding affinity for targets of interest and being proteolytically stable can be evolved by phage display; in conjunction with albumin-binding tags, they offer a promising format to access targets in solid tumors. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 151–61. ©2014 AACR.


Metuzumab is an affinity-optimized and nonfucosylated anti-CD147 human–mouse chimeric IgG1 monoclonal antibody with enhanced antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). The purpose of this study was to characterize the pharmacokinetics, safety, and antitumor activities of metuzumab in mouse, rat, and monkey. The ADCC activity was assessed by a lactate dehydrogenase release assay. The pharmacokinetics of metuzumab were determined in Sprague–Dawley rats and in cynomolgus monkeys. Single- and repeat-dose toxicology studies of the i.v. administration of high-dose metuzumab were conducted in cynomolgus monkeys. Mice bearing human tumor xenografts were used to evaluate the antitumor efficacy of metuzumab. The ADCC potency of metuzumab was enhanced compared with the nonglycoengineered parental antibody. Metuzumab also effectively inhibited tumor growth in A549 and NCI-H520 xenograft models. In the monkey model, the total clearance of metuzumab decreased with increasing dose. The nonspecific clearance in monkeys was estimated to be 0.53 to 0.92 mL/h/kg. In single- and repeat-dose toxicology studies in cynomolgus monkeys, metuzumab did not induce any distinct or novel adverse findings and was well tolerated at all tested doses. These preclinical safety data facilitated the initiation of an ongoing clinical trial of metuzumab for the treatment of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in China. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 162–73. ©2014 AACR.


Invasive bladder cancer has high morbidity and nearly uniform mortality when metastatic, with no therapeutic improvement in many years. Although chemotherapy combined with Chk1 inhibition has been investigated in several cancer types in which TP53 mutation is seen, this combination treatment approach has not been studied in bladder cancer. Recently, cancer genome sequencing efforts have identified CDKN1A (p21) mutations at 14% frequency in invasive bladder cancer, co-occurring half the time with TP53 mutations. We hypothesized that combined CDKN1A–TP53 loss would make bladder cancer sensitive to combined treatment with gemcitabine and Chk1 inhibitor. Here, we show that TP53–CDKN1A double-mutant bladder cancer cell lines, 647V and RT-112, have a remarkable increase in p-Chk1 levels and G2–M arrest in response to gemcitabine treatment, with a heightened sensitivity to combination treatment with gemcitabine and either Chk1 inhibitor PF477736 or AZD7762, in comparison with other bladder cancer cell lines (either TP53 or p21 deficient). In addition, CDKN1A restoration in p21-deficient bladder cancer cells significantly reduced their sensitivity to combined treatment by protecting them from DNA damage and apoptosis. Furthermore, xenograft studies using RT-112 showed a significant synergistic effect of combined gemcitabine–PF477736 treatment on tumor growth. Our findings suggest that TP53/CDKN1A double-mutant bladder cancer cells have a unique dependence on Chk1 activity for the G2–M cell-cycle checkpoint in response to chemotherapy-induced DNA damage. This combination or others involving genotoxic agents and Chk kinase inhibitors is a promising therapeutic approach for bladder cancer with these mutations. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 174–82. ©2014 AACR.


SRT1720 is an activator of SIRT1, a NAD+-dependent protein and histone deacetylase that plays an important role in numerous biologic processes. Several studies have illustrated that SRT1720 treatment could improve metabolic conditions in mouse models and in a study in cancer SRT1720 caused increased apoptosis of myeloma cells. However, the effect of SRT1720 on cancer may be complex, as some recent studies have demonstrated that SRT1720 may not directly activate SIRT1 and another study showed that SRT1720 treatment could promote lung metastasis. To further investigate the role of SRT1720 in breast cancer, we treated SIRT1 knockdown and control breast cancer cell lines with SRT1720 both in vitro and in vivo. We showed that SRT1720 more effectively decreased the viability of basal-type MDA-MB-231 and BT20 cells as compared with luminal-type MCF-7 breast cancer cells or nontumorigenic MCF-10A cells. We demonstrated that SRT1720 induced lysosomal membrane permeabilization and necrosis, which could be blocked by lysosomal inhibitors. In contrast, SRT1720-induced cell death occurred in vitro irrespective of SIRT1 status, whereas in nude mice, SRT1720 exhibited a more profound effect in inhibiting the growth of allograft tumors of SIRT1 proficient cells as compared with tumors of SIRT1-deficient cells. Thus, SRT1720 causes lysosomal-dependent necrosis and may be used as a therapeutic agent for breast cancer treatment. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 183–92. ©2014 AACR.


We studied mechanisms of resistance to the novel taxane cabazitaxel in established cellular models of taxane resistance. We also developed cabazitaxel-resistant variants from MCF-7 breast cancer cells by stepwise selection in drug alone (MCF-7/CTAX) or drug plus the transport inhibitor PSC-833 (MCF-7/CTAX-P). Among multidrug-resistant (MDR) variants, cabazitaxel was relatively less cross-resistant than paclitaxel and docetaxel (15- vs. 200-fold in MES-SA/Dx5 and 9- vs. 60-fold in MCF-7/TxT50, respectively). MCF-7/TxTP50 cells that were negative for MDR but had 9-fold resistance to paclitaxel were also 9-fold resistant to cabazitaxel. Selection with cabazitaxel alone (MCF-7/CTAX) yielded 33-fold resistance to cabazitaxel, 52-fold resistance to paclitaxel, activation of ABCB1, and 3-fold residual resistance to cabazitaxel with MDR inhibition. The MCF-7/CTAX-P variant did not express ABCB1, nor did it efflux rhodamine-123, BODIPY-labeled paclitaxel, and [3H]-docetaxel. These cells are hypersensitive to depolymerizing agents (vinca alkaloids and colchicine), have reduced baseline levels of stabilized microtubules, and impaired tubulin polymerization in response to taxanes (cabazitaxel or docetaxel) relative to MCF-7 parental cells. Class III β-tubulin (TUBB3) RNA and protein were elevated in both MCF-7/CTAX and MCF-7/CTAX-P. Decreased BRCA1 and altered epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT) markers are also associated with cabazitaxel resistance in these MCF-7 variants, and may serve as predictive biomarkers for its activity in the clinical setting. In summary, cabazitaxel resistance mechanisms include MDR (although at a lower level than paclitaxel and docetaxel), and alterations in microtubule dynamicity, as manifested by higher expression of TUBB3, decreased BRCA1, and by the induction of EMT. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 193–201. ©2014 AACR.


Arsenic trioxide (As2O3) exhibits potent antineoplastic effects and is used extensively in clinical oncology for the treatment of a subset of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Although As2O3 is known to regulate activation of several signaling cascades, the key events, accounting for its antileukemic properties, remain to be defined. We provide evidence that arsenic can directly bind to cysteine 299 in AMPKα and inhibit its activity. This inhibition of AMPK by arsenic is required in part for its cytotoxic effects on primitive leukemic progenitors from patients with AML, while concomitant treatment with an AMPK activator antagonizes in vivo the arsenic-induced antileukemic effects in a xenograft AML mouse model. A consequence of AMPK inhibition is activation of the mTOR pathway as a negative regulatory feedback loop. However, when AMPK expression is lost, arsenic-dependent activation of the kinase RSK downstream of MAPK activity compensates the generation of regulatory feedback signals through phosphorylation of downstream mTOR targets. Thus, therapeutic regimens with As2O3 will need to include inhibitors of both the mTOR and RSK pathways in combination to prevent engagement of negative feedback loops and maximize antineoplastic responses. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 202–12. ©2014 AACR.


Midkine (MDK) is a member of a new family of neurotrophic factors considered as rate-limiting growth and angiogenic factors implicated in the onset, invasion, and metastatic process of neuronal tumors, including neuroblastoma. We showed that all neuroblastoma cell lines highly expressed MDK, indicating that it is a critical player in tumor development, which may henceforth represent an attractive therapeutic target. We showed that the knockdown of MDK expression by siRNA led to a marked and significant decrease in neuroblastoma (IGR-N91 and SH-SY5Y) cell proliferation in vitro. Using a new strategy, we then evaluated the antitumor effect of a truncated MDK protein, lacking the C-terminal 81–121 portion of the molecule (MDK81-121), which may act as a dominant-negative effector for its mitogenic, angiogenic, and tumorigenic activities by heterodimerizing with the wild-type protein. In vitro studies showed that MDK81-121 selectively inhibited MDK-dependent tumor cells and was able to strongly reduce endothelial cell proliferation and migration and to induce ER stress–mediated apoptosis. We then investigated the effects of MDK81-121 in vivo using electrotransfer of a plasmid encoding a secretable form of MDK81-121 into tibialis cranialis muscles of nude mice. We showed that MDK81-121 dramatically inhibited (up to 91%) tumor development and growth. This inhibition was correlated with the detection of the MDK81-121 molecule in plasma and the suppression of intratumor neovascularization. Our findings demonstrate that MDK inhibition is a tractable therapeutic target for this lethal pediatric malignancy. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 213–24. ©2014 AACR.


NP63α, the predominant TP63 isoform expressed in diverse epithelial tissues, including the mammary gland, is required for the preservation of stem cells and has been implicated in tumorigenesis and metastasis. Despite data characterizing NP63α as a master regulator of stem cell activity, identification of the targets underlying these effects is incompletely understood. Recently, NP63α was identified as a key regulator in the promotion of proinflammatory programs in squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. Inflammation has been implicated as a potent driver of cancer stem cell phenotypes and metastasis. In this study, we sought to identify novel targets of NP63α that confer cancer stem cell and prometastatic properties. Data presented here identify the gene encoding the chemokine receptor 4 (CXCR4) as a transcriptional target of NP63α. Our data indicate that NP63α enhances CXCR4 expression in breast cancer cells via its binding at two regions within the CXCR4 promoter. The CXCR4 antagonist AMD3100 was used to demonstrate that the pro–stem cell activity of NP63α is mediated through its regulation of CXCR4. Importantly, we show that NP63α promotes the chemotaxis of breast cancer cells towards the CXCR4 ligand SDF1α, a process implicated in the trafficking of breast cancer cells to sites of metastasis. This study highlights CXCR4 as a previously unidentified target of NP63α, which plays a significant role in mediating NP63α-dependent stem cell activity and chemotaxis toward SDF1α. Our findings suggest that NP63α regulation of CXCR4 may have strong implications in the regulation of cancer stem cells and metastasis. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 225–35. ©2014 AACR.


Multitargeted tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) axitinib, pazopanib, and sunitinib are used to treat many solid tumors. Combination trials of TKIs with gemcitabine, a nucleoside anticancer drug, in pancreas, renal, lung, ovarian, and other malignancies resulted in little benefit to patients. TKI interactions with human nucleoside transporters (hNT) were studied by assessing inhibition of [3H]uridine uptake in yeast producing recombinant hNTs individually and in cultured human cancer cell lines. Axitinib, pazopanib, and sunitinib inhibited hENT1 at low micromolar concentrations. In A549, AsPC-1, and Caki-1 cells, [3H]uridine, [3H]thymidine, [3H]gemcitabine, and [3H]fluorothymidine (FLT) accumulation was blocked by all three TKIs. Pazopanib > axitinib ≥ sunitinib inhibited hENT1 with IC50 values of 2, 7, and 29 μmol/L, respectively, leading to reduced intracellular gemcitabine and FLT accumulation. Pretreatment or cotreatment of Caki-1 cells with TKIs reduced cellular accumulation of [3H]nucleosides, suggesting that TKI scheduling with nucleoside drugs would influence cytotoxicity. In combination cytotoxicity experiments that compared sequential versus simultaneous addition of drugs in Caki-1 cells, cytotoxicity was greatest when gemcitabine was added before TKIs. In clinical settings, TKI inhibitor concentrations in tumor tissues are sufficient to inhibit hENT1 activity, thereby reducing nucleoside chemotherapy drug levels in cancer cells and reducing efficacy in combination schedules. An additional unwanted interaction may be reduced FLT uptake in tumor tissues that could lead to aberrant conclusions regarding tumor response. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 236–45. ©2014 AACR.


Prostate cancer affects a large proportion of the male population, and is primarily driven by androgen receptor (AR) activity. First-line treatment typically consists of reducing AR signaling by hormone depletion, but resistance inevitably develops over time. One way to overcome this issue is to block AR function via alternative means, preferably by inhibiting protein targets that are more active in tumors than in normal tissue. By staining prostate cancer tumor sections, elevated LIM kinase 1 (LIMK1) expression and increased phosphorylation of its substrate Cofilin were found to be associated with poor outcome and reduced survival in patients with nonmetastatic prostate cancer. A LIMK-selective small molecule inhibitor (LIMKi) was used to determine whether targeted LIMK inhibition was a potential prostate cancer therapy. LIMKi reduced prostate cancer cell motility, as well as inhibiting proliferation and increasing apoptosis in androgen-dependent prostate cancer cells more effectively than in androgen-independent prostate cancer cells. LIMK inhibition blocked ligand-induced AR nuclear translocation, reduced AR protein stability and transcriptional activity, consistent with its effects on proliferation and survival acting via inhibition of AR activity. Furthermore, inhibition of LIMK activity increased αTubulin acetylation and decreased AR interactions with αTubulin, indicating that the role of LIMK in regulating microtubule dynamics contributes to AR function. These results indicate that LIMK inhibitors could be beneficial for the treatment of prostate cancer both by reducing nuclear AR translocation, leading to reduced proliferation and survival, and by inhibiting prostate cancer cell dissemination. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 246–58. ©2014 AACR.


Intestinal alkaline sphingomyelinase (alk-SMase) generates ceramide and inactivates platelet-activating factor (PAF) and was previously suggested to have anticancer properties. The direct evidence is still lacking. We studied colonic tumorigenesis in alk-SMase knockout (KO) mice. Formation of aberrant crypt foci (ACF) was examined after azoxymethane (AOM) injection. Tumor was induced by AOM alone, a conventional AOM/dextran sulfate sodium (DSS) treatment, and an enhanced AOM/DSS method. β-Catenin was determined by immunohistochemistry, PAF levels by ELISA, and sphingomyelin metabolites by mass spectrometry. Without treatment, spontaneous tumorigenesis was not identified but the intestinal mucosa appeared thicker in KO than in wild-type (WT) littermates. AOM alone induced more ACF in KO mice but no tumors 28 weeks after injection. However, combination of AOM/DSS treatments induced colonic tumors and the incidence was significantly higher in KO than in WT mice. By the enhanced AOM/DSS method, tumor number per mouse increased 4.5 times and tumor size 1.8 times in KO compared with WT mice. Although all tumors were adenomas in WT mice, 32% were adenocarcinomas in KO mice. Compared with WT mice, cytosol expression of β-catenin was significantly increased and nuclear translocation in tumors was more pronounced in KO mice. Lipid analysis showed decreased ceramide in small intestine and increased sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P) in both small intestine and colon in nontreated KO mice. PAF levels in feces were significantly higher in the KO mice after AOM/DSS treatment. In conclusion, lack of alk-SMase markedly increases AOM/DSS–induced colonic tumorigenesis associated with decreased ceramide and increased S1P and PAF levels. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 259–67. ©2014 AACR.


Recent evidence highlights long noncoding RNAs (lncRNA) as crucial regulators of cancer biology that contribute to essential cancer cell functions such as cell proliferation, apoptosis, and metastasis. In non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), several lncRNAs' expressions are misregulated and have been nominated as critical actors in NSCLC tumorigenesis. LncRNA ANRIL was first found to be required for the PRC2 recruitment to and silencing of p15INK4B, the expression of which is induced by the ATM–E2F1 signaling pathway. Our previous study showed that ANRIL was significantly upregulated in gastric cancer, and it could promote cell proliferation and inhibit cell apoptosis by silencing of miR99a and miR449a transcription. However, its clinical significance and potential role in NSCLC is still not documented. In this study, we reported that ANRIL expression was increased in NSCLC tissues, and its expression level was significantly correlated with tumor–node–metastasis stages and tumor size. Moreover, patients with high levels of ANRIL expression had a relatively poor prognosis. In addition, taking advantage of loss-of-function experiments in NSCLC cells, we found that knockdown of ANRIL expression could impair cell proliferation and induce cell apoptosis both in vitro and vivo. Furthermore, we uncover that ANRIL could not repress p15 expression in PC9 cells, but through silencing of KLF2 and P21 transcription. Thus, we conclusively demonstrate that lncRNA ANRIL plays a key role in NSCLC development by associating its expression with survival in patients with NSCLC, providing novel insights on the function of lncRNA-driven tumorigenesis. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 268–77. ©2014 AACR.


Copy-number alterations (CNA) are among the most common molecular events in human prostate cancer genomes and are associated with worse prognosis. Identification of the oncogenic drivers within these CNAs is challenging due to the broad nature of these genomic gains or losses which can include large numbers of genes within a given region. Here, we profiled the genomes of four genetically engineered mouse prostate cancer models that reflect oncogenic events common in human prostate tumors, with the goal of integrating these data with human prostate cancer datasets to identify shared molecular events. Met was amplified in 67% of prostate tumors from Pten p53 prostate conditional null mice and in approximately 30% of metastatic human prostate cancer specimens, often in association with loss of PTEN and TP53. In murine tumors with Met amplification, Met copy-number gain and expression was present in some cells but not others, revealing intratumoral heterogeneity. Forced MET overexpression in non–MET-amplified prostate tumor cells activated PI3K and MAPK signaling and promoted cell proliferation and tumor growth, whereas MET kinase inhibition selectively impaired the growth of tumors with Met amplification. However, the impact of MET inhibitor therapy was compromised by the persistent growth of non–Met-amplified cells within Met-amplified tumors. These findings establish the importance of MET in prostate cancer progression but reveal potential limitations in the clinical use of MET inhibitors in late-stage prostate cancer. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 278–88. ©2014 AACR.


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is an aggressive and lethal disease with a high rate of metastasis. Numerous signaling events have been implicated in the molecular pathogenesis of this neoplasm. Aberrantly high expression of JAGGED2, one of the NOTCH ligands, often occurs in human PDAC. However, what role JAGGED2 plays in the disease development and whether JAGGED2 executes its function through activating NOTCH signaling remain to be determined. We report here that JAGGED2 plays a critical role in promoting PDAC metastasis in vitro and in vivo. Depletion of JAGGED2, but not its homolog JAGGED1, profoundly inhibited both migration and invasion without influencing cell proliferation. Furthermore, reconstitution of JAGGED2 expression rescued the migratory defect. Surprisingly, neither pharmacologic nor genetic inhibition of NOTCH downstream signaling resulted in obvious defect in metastasis. Instead, depletion of NOTCH1 expression per se gave rise to migratory defects similar to JAGGED2 ablation. Moreover, blockade of ligand–receptor interaction by a specific JAGGED2-Fc fusion protein dramatically inhibited PDAC cell migration, suggesting that tumor metastasis relies on physical interactions of JAGGED2-NOTCH1 but not Notch downstream signaling activation. Taken together, our data reveal a novel role of NOTCH in regulation of PDAC metastasis, and identify JAGGED2 as a critical mediator in this event. These findings also provide rationale for developing small molecules or biologic agents targeting JAGGED2 for therapeutic intervention. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 289–97. ©2014 AACR.


Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC), negative for estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor, and ERBB2 amplification, are resistant to standard targeted therapies and exhibit a poor prognosis. Furthermore, they are highly heterogeneous with respect to genomic alterations, and common therapeutic targets are lacking though substantial evidence implicates dysregulated kinase signaling. Recently, six subtypes of TNBC were identified based on gene expression and were proposed to predict sensitivity to a variety of therapeutic agents including kinase inhibitors. To test this hypothesis, we screened a large collection of well-characterized, small molecule kinase inhibitors for growth inhibition in a panel of TNBC cell lines representing all six subtypes. Sensitivity to kinase inhibition correlated poorly with TNBC subtype. Instead, unsupervised clustering segregated TNBC cell lines according to clinically relevant features including dependence on epidermal growth factor signaling and mutation of the PTEN tumor suppressor. We further report the discovery of kinase inhibitors with selective toxicity to these groups. Overall, however, TNBC cell lines exhibited diverse sensitivity to kinase inhibition consistent with the lack of common driver mutations in this disease. Although our findings support specific kinase dependencies in subsets of TNBC, they are not associated with gene expression–based subtypes. Instead, we find that mutation status can be an effective predictor of sensitivity to inhibition of particular kinase pathways for subsets of TNBC. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 298–306. ©2014 AACR.


The 2-year survival rate of patients with breast cancer brain metastases is less than 2%. Treatment options for breast cancer brain metastases are limited, and there is an unmet need to identify novel therapies for this disease. Brain angiogenesis inhibitor 1 (BAI1) is a GPCR involved in tumor angiogenesis, invasion, phagocytosis, and synaptogenesis. For the first time, we identify that BAI1 expression is significantly reduced in breast cancer and higher expression is associated with better patient survival. Nestin is an intermediate filament whose expression is upregulated in several cancers. We found that higher Nestin expression significantly correlated with breast cancer lung and brain metastases, suggesting both BAI1 and Nestin can be therapeutic targets for this disease. Here, we demonstrate the ability of an oncolytic virus, 34.5ENVE, to target and kill high Nestin-expressing cells and deliver Vstat120 (extracellular fragment of BAI1). Finally, we created two orthotopic immune-competent murine models of breast cancer brain metastases and demonstrated 34.5ENVE extended the survival of immune-competent mice bearing intracranial breast cancer tumors. Mol Cancer Ther; 14(1); 307–14. ©2014 AACR.