Eribulin, a novel microtubule-interfering drug, was recently shown to exhibit high antitumor activity in vivo against various pediatric cancers. Here, we identify a novel synthetic lethal interaction of Eribulin together with Polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1) inhibitors against rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) in vitro and in vivo. Eribulin and the PLK1 inhibitor BI 2536 at subtoxic concentrations synergize to induce apoptosis in RMS cells as confirmed by calculation of combination index (CI). Also, Eribulin/BI 2536 co-treatment is significantly more effective than monotherapy to reduce cell viability and inhibit colony formation of RMS cells. Similarly, Eribulin and BI 2536 act in concert to trigger apoptosis in a primary, patient-derived ARMS culture, underscoring the clinical relevance of this combination. Importantly, Eribulin and BI 2536 cooperate to suppress tumor growth in an in vivo model of RMS. On molecular grounds, Eribulin/BI 2536 co-treatment causes profound mitotic arrest, which is critically required for synergism, since inhibition of mitotic arrest by CDK1 inhibitor RO-3306 abolishes Eribulin/BI 2536-mediated apoptosis. Eribulin and BI 2536 cooperate to activate caspase-9, -3 and -8, which is necessary for apoptosis induction, since the broad-range caspase inhibitor N-benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp-fluoromethylketone (zVAD.fmk) reduces Eribulin/BI 2536-induced apoptosis significantly, yet partially. Intriguingly, knockdown of endonuclease G (ENDOG) also significantly inhibits Eribulin/BI 2536-triggered apoptosis, demonstrating the involvement of both caspase-dependent and -independent effector pathways. Synergistic induction of apoptosis is similarly found for Eribulin/BI 2536 co-treatment in neuroblastoma cells and for the combination of vincristine (another antimicrotubule chemotherapeutic) with Poloxin (another PLK1 inhibitor), thus pointing to a broader significance of this concomitant microtubule- and PLK1-targeting strategy for pediatric oncology. In conclusion, the identification of a novel synthetic lethality by dual targeting of mitosis using microtubule-interfering and PLK1-targeted drugs, i.e. Eribulin and BI 2536, has important implications for the development of more effective treatment strategies for RMS.
Keywords: Apoptosis; Eribulin; PLK1; Rhabdomyosarcoma.
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