Cells Lacking the RB1 Tumor Suppressor Gene Are Hyperdependent on Aurora B Kinase for Survival

Cancer Discov. 2019 Feb;9(2):230-247. doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-18-0389. Epub 2018 Oct 29.


Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) accounts for 15% of lung cancers and is almost always linked to inactivating RB1 and TP53 mutations. SCLC frequently responds, albeit briefly, to chemotherapy. The canonical function of the RB1 gene product RB1 is to repress the E2F transcription factor family. RB1 also plays both E2F-dependent and E2F-independent mitotic roles. We performed a synthetic lethal CRISPR/Cas9 screen in an RB1 -/- SCLC cell line that conditionally expresses RB1 to identify dependencies that are caused by RB1 loss and discovered that RB1 -/- SCLC cell lines are hyperdependent on multiple proteins linked to chromosomal segregation, including Aurora B kinase. Moreover, we show that an Aurora B kinase inhibitor is efficacious in multiple preclinical SCLC models at concentrations that are well tolerated in mice. These results suggest that RB1 loss is a predictive biomarker for sensitivity to Aurora B kinase inhibitors in SCLC and perhaps other RB1 -/- cancers. SIGNIFICANCE: SCLC is rarely associated with actionable protooncogene mutations. We did a CRISPR/Cas9-based screen that showed that RB1 -/- SCLC are hyperdependent on AURKB, likely because both genes control mitotic fidelity, and confirmed that Aurora B kinase inhibitors are efficacious against RB1 -/- SCLC tumors in mice at nontoxic doses.See related commentary by Dick and Li, p. 169.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 151.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis
  • Aurora Kinase B / genetics
  • Aurora Kinase B / metabolism*
  • CRISPR-Cas Systems
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Chromosome Segregation
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Female
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mutation*
  • Retinoblastoma Binding Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Retinoblastoma Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Retinoblastoma Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / drug therapy
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / genetics
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases / metabolism*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • RB1 protein, human
  • Retinoblastoma Binding Proteins
  • Ubiquitin-Protein Ligases
  • AURKB protein, human
  • Aurora Kinase B