Lack of sustained response to therapeutic agents in patients with KRAS-mutant lung cancer poses a major challenge and arises partly due to intratumor heterogeneity that defines phenotypically distinct tumor subpopulations. To attain better therapeutic outcomes, it is important to understand the differential therapeutic sensitivities of tumor cell subsets. Epithelial-mesenchymal transition is a biological phenomenon that can alter the state of cells along a phenotypic spectrum and cause transcriptional rewiring to produce distinct tumor cell subpopulations. We utilized functional shRNA screens, in in vitro and in vivo models, to identify and validate an increased dependence of mesenchymal tumor cells on cyclin-dependent kinase 4 (CDK4) for survival, as well as a mechanism of resistance to MEK inhibitors. High zinc finger E-box binding homeobox 1 levels in mesenchymal tumor cells repressed p21, leading to perturbed CDK4 pathway activity. Increased dependence on CDK4 rendered mesenchymal cancer cells particularly vulnerable to selective CDK4 inhibitors. Coadministration of CDK4 and MEK inhibitors in heterogeneous tumors effectively targeted different tumor subpopulations, subverting the resistance to either single-agent treatment.
Aparna Padhye, Jessica M. Konen, B. Leticia Rodriguez, Jared J. Fradette, Joshua K. Ochieng, Lixia Diao, Jing Wang, Wei Lu, Luisa S. Solis, Harsh Batra, Maria G. Raso, Michael D. Peoples, Rosalba Minelli, Alessandro Carugo, Christopher A. Bristow, Don L. Gibbons