Systematic screening identifies ABCG2 as critical factor underlying synergy of kinase inhibitors with transcriptional CDK inhibitors

Vera E van der Noord, Wanda van der Stel, Gijs Louwerens, Danielle Verhoeven, Hendrik J Kuiken, Cor Lieftink, Melanie Grandits, Gerhard F Ecker, Roderick L Beijersbergen, Peter Bouwman, Sylvia E Le Dévédec, Bob van de Water

BACKGROUND: Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a subtype of breast cancer with limited treatment options and poor clinical prognosis. Inhibitors of transcriptional CDKs are currently under thorough investigation for application in the treatment of multiple cancer types, including breast cancer. These studies have raised interest in combining these inhibitors, including CDK12/13 inhibitor THZ531, with a variety of other anti-cancer agents. However, the full scope of these potential synergistic interactions of transcriptional CDK inhibitors with kinase inhibitors has not been systematically investigated. Moreover, the mechanisms behind these previously described synergistic interactions remain largely elusive.

METHODS: Kinase inhibitor combination screenings were performed to identify kinase inhibitors that synergize with CDK7 inhibitor THZ1 and CDK12/13 inhibitor THZ531 in TNBC cell lines. CRISPR-Cas9 knockout screening and transcriptomic evaluation of resistant versus sensitive cell lines were performed to identify genes critical for THZ531 resistance. RNA sequencing analysis after treatment with individual and combined synergistic treatments was performed to gain further insights into the mechanism of this synergy. Kinase inhibitor screening in combination with visualization of ABCG2-substrate pheophorbide A was used to identify kinase inhibitors that inhibit ABCG2. Multiple transcriptional CDK inhibitors were evaluated to extend the significance of the found mechanism to other transcriptional CDK inhibitors.

RESULTS: We show that a very high number of tyrosine kinase inhibitors synergize with the CDK12/13 inhibitor THZ531. Yet, we identified the multidrug transporter ABCG2 as key determinant of THZ531 resistance in TNBC cells. Mechanistically, we demonstrate that most synergistic kinase inhibitors block ABCG2 function, thereby sensitizing cells to transcriptional CDK inhibitors, including THZ531. Accordingly, these kinase inhibitors potentiate the effects of THZ531, disrupting gene expression and increasing intronic polyadenylation.

CONCLUSION: Overall, this study demonstrates the critical role of ABCG2 in limiting the efficacy of transcriptional CDK inhibitors and identifies multiple kinase inhibitors that disrupt ABCG2 transporter function and thereby synergize with these CDK inhibitors. These findings therefore further facilitate the development of new (combination) therapies targeting transcriptional CDKs and highlight the importance of evaluating the role of ABC transporters in synergistic drug-drug interactions in general.

Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences
External organisation(s)
Leiden University, Netherlands Cancer Institute
Breast Cancer Research
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
301207 Pharmaceutical chemistry, 301215 Drug safety
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Oncology, Cancer Research
Sustainable Development Goals
SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
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