Pharmacological activation of REV-ERBs is lethal in cancer and oncogene-induced senescence

Nature. 2018 Jan 18;553(7688):351-355. doi: 10.1038/nature25170. Epub 2018 Jan 10.


The circadian clock imposes daily rhythms in cell proliferation, metabolism, inflammation and DNA damage response. Perturbations of these processes are hallmarks of cancer and chronic circadian rhythm disruption predisposes individuals to tumour development. This raises the hypothesis that pharmacological modulation of the circadian machinery may be an effective therapeutic strategy for combating cancer. REV-ERBs, the nuclear hormone receptors REV-ERBα (also known as NR1D1) and REV-ERBβ (also known as NR1D2), are essential components of the circadian clock. Here we show that two agonists of REV-ERBs-SR9009 and SR9011-are specifically lethal to cancer cells and oncogene-induced senescent cells, including melanocytic naevi, and have no effect on the viability of normal cells or tissues. The anticancer activity of SR9009 and SR9011 affects a number of oncogenic drivers (such as HRAS, BRAF, PIK3CA and others) and persists in the absence of p53 and under hypoxic conditions. The regulation of autophagy and de novo lipogenesis by SR9009 and SR9011 has a critical role in evoking an apoptotic response in malignant cells. Notably, the selective anticancer properties of these REV-ERB agonists impair glioblastoma growth in vivo and improve survival without causing overt toxicity in mice. These results indicate that pharmacological modulation of circadian regulators is an effective antitumour strategy, identifying a class of anticancer agents with a wide therapeutic window. We propose that REV-ERB agonists are inhibitors of autophagy and de novo lipogenesis, with selective activity towards malignant and benign neoplasms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Autophagy / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Circadian Clocks / genetics
  • Circadian Clocks / physiology
  • Female
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / genetics
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases / metabolism
  • Glioblastoma / drug therapy
  • Glioblastoma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lipogenesis / drug effects
  • Male
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Nevus / drug therapy
  • Nevus / pathology
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 1, Group D, Member 1 / agonists*
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 1, Group D, Member 1 / metabolism
  • Oncogenes / genetics*
  • Pyrrolidines / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Thiophenes / pharmacology


  • Membrane Proteins
  • NR1D1 protein, human
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 1, Group D, Member 1
  • Pyrrolidines
  • SR9009
  • SR9011
  • Thiophenes
  • GTP Phosphohydrolases
  • NRAS protein, human