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Targeting Super-Enhancer-Driven Transcriptional Dependencies Suppresses Aberrant Hedgehog Pathway Activation and Overcomes Smoothened Inhibitor Resistance.

Cancer Research 2024 May 23
Aberrant activation of the Hedgehog (Hh) signaling pathway plays important roles in oncogenesis and therapeutic resistance in several types of cancer. The clinical application of FDA-approved Hh-targeted Smoothened inhibitors (SMOi) is hindered by the emergence of primary or acquired drug resistance. Epigenetic and transcriptional targeted therapies represent a promising direction for developing improved anti-Hh therapies. In this study, we integrated epigenetic/transcriptional-targeted small-molecule library screening with CRISPR/Cas9 knockout library screening and identified CDK9 and CDK12, two transcription elongation regulators, as therapeutic targets for antagonizing aberrant Hh activation and overcoming SMOi resistance. Inhibition of CDK9 or CDK12 potently suppressed Hh signaling and tumor growth in various SMOi responsive or resistant Hh-driven tumor models. Systemic epigenomic profiling elucidated the Hh-driven super-enhancer (SE) landscape and identified IRS1, encoding a critical component and cytoplasmic adaptor protein of the IGF pathway, as an oncogenic Hh-driven SE target gene and effective therapeutic target in Hh-driven tumor models. Collectively, this study identifies SE-driven transcriptional dependencies that represent promising therapeutic vulnerabilities for suppressing the Hh pathway and overcoming SMOi resistance. As CDK9 and IRS inhibitors have already entered human clinical trials for cancer treatment, these findings provide comprehensive preclinical support for developing trials for Hh-driven cancers.

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