Increased activity of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) is common in human malignancies, including colorectal cancers (CRCs). We have recently reported that STAT3 gene expression correlates with resistance of CRC cell lines to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-based chemoradiotherapy (CT/RT). This is of considerable clinical importance, because a large proportion of rectal cancers are resistant to preoperative multimodal treatment. To test whether STAT3 contributes to CT/RT-resistance, we first confirmed that STAT3 protein expression correlated positively with increasing resistance. While STAT3 was not constitutively active, stimulation with interleukin-6 (IL-6) resulted in remarkably higher expression levels of phosphorylated STAT3 in CT/RT-resistant cell lines. A similar result was observed when we determined IL-6-induced expression levels of phosphorylated STAT3 following irradiation. Next, STAT3 was inhibited in SW480 and SW837 using siRNA, shRNA and the small-molecule inhibitor STATTIC. Successful silencing and inhibition of phosphorylation was confirmed using Western blot analysis and a luciferase reporter assay. RNAi-mediated silencing as well as STATTIC treatment resulted in significantly decreased clonogenic survival following exposure to 3 µM of 5-FU and irradiation in a dose-dependent manner, with dose-modifying factors of 1.3-2.5 at a surviving fraction of 0.37. Finally, STAT3 inhibition led to a profound CT/RT-sensitization in a subcutaneous xenograft model, with a significantly delayed tumor regrowth in STATTIC-treated mice compared with control animals. These results highlight a potential role of STAT3 in mediating treatment resistance and provide first proof of concept that STAT3 represents a promising novel molecular target for sensitizing resistant rectal cancers to CT/RT.
Keywords: STAT3; chemoradiotherapy-resistance; chemoradiotherapy-sensitization; molecular target; rectal cancer.
© 2013 UICC.