Targeting the oncogenic MUC1-C protein inhibits mutant EGFR-mediated signaling and survival in non-small cell lung cancer cells

Akriti Kharbanda, Hasan Rajabi, Caining Jin, Jeremy Tchaicha, Eiki Kikuchi, Kwok-Kin Wong, Donald Kufe
Clinical Cancer Research 2014 November 1, 20 (21): 5423-34

PURPOSE: Non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC) that express EGF receptor with activating mutations frequently develop resistance to EGFR kinase inhibitors. The mucin 1 (MUC1) heterodimeric protein is aberrantly overexpressed in NSCLC cells and confers a poor prognosis; however, the functional involvement of MUC1 in mutant EGFR signaling is not known.

EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Targeting the oncogenic MUC1 C-terminal subunit (MUC1-C) in NSCLC cells harboring mutant EGFR was studied for effects on signaling, growth, clonogenic survival, and tumorigenicity.

RESULTS: Stable silencing of MUC1-C in H1975/EGFR(L858R/T790M) cells resulted in downregulation of AKT signaling and inhibition of growth, colony formation, and tumorigenicity. Similar findings were obtained when MUC1-C was silenced in gefitinib-resistant PC9GR cells expressing EGFR(delE746_A750/T790M). The results further show that expression of a MUC1-C(CQC → AQA) mutant, which blocks MUC1-C homodimerization, suppresses EGFR(T790M), AKT and MEK → ERK activation, colony formation, and tumorigenicity. In concert with these results, treatment of H1975 and PC9GR cells with GO-203, a cell-penetrating peptide that blocks MUC1-C homodimerization, resulted in inhibition of EGFR, AKT, and MEK → ERK signaling and in loss of survival. Combination studies of GO-203 and afatinib, an irreversible inhibitor of EGFR, further demonstrate that these agents are synergistic in inhibiting growth of NSCLC cells harboring the activating EGFR(T790M) or EGFR(delE746-A750) mutants.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicate that targeting MUC1-C inhibits mutant EGFR signaling and survival, and thus represents a potential approach alone and in combination for the treatment of NSCLCs resistant to EGFR kinase inhibitors.

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