Aurora kinases are a family of mitotic kinases that play important roles in the tumorigenesis of a variety of cancers including pancreatic cancer. A number of Aurora kinase inhibitors (AKIs) are currently being tested in preclinical and clinical settings as anti-cancer therapies. However, the antitumor activity of AKIs in clinical trials has been modest. In order to improve the antitumor activity of AKIs in pancreatic cancer, we utilized a kinome focused RNAi screen to identify genes that, when silenced, would sensitize pancreatic cancer cells to AKI treatment. A total of 17 kinase genes were identified and confirmed as positive hits. One of the hits was the platelet-derived growth factor receptor, alpha polypeptide (PDGFRA), which has been shown to be overexpressed in pancreatic cancer cells and tumor tissues. Imatinib, a PDGFR inhibitor, significantly enhanced the anti-proliferative effect of ZM447439, an Aurora B specific inhibitor, and PHA-739358, a pan-Aurora kinase inhibitor. Further studies showed that imatinib augmented the induction of G2/M cell cycle arrest and apoptosis by PHA-739358. These findings indicate that PDGFRA is a potential mediator of AKI sensitivity in pancreatic cancer cells.
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