Cancers that utilize the alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) mechanism for telomere maintenance are often difficult to treat and have a poor prognosis. They are also commonly deficient for expression of ATRX protein, a repressor of ALT activity, and a component of promyelocytic leukemia nuclear bodies (PML NBs) that are required for intrinsic immunity to various viruses. Here, we asked whether ATRX deficiency creates a vulnerability in ALT cancer cells that could be exploited for therapeutic purposes. We showed in a range of cell types that a mutant herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) lacking ICP0, a protein that degrades PML NB components including ATRX, was ten- to one thousand-fold more effective in infecting ATRX-deficient cells than wild-type ATRX-expressing cells. Infection of co-cultured primary and ATRX-deficient cancer cells revealed that mutant HSV-1 selectively killed ATRX-deficient cells. Sensitivity to mutant HSV-1 infection also correlated inversely with PML protein levels, and we showed that ATRX upregulates PML expression at both the transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. These data provide a basis for predicting, based on ATRX or PML levels, which tumors will respond to a selective oncolytic herpesvirus.
Keywords: ATRX; Oncolytic virus; PML; Post-transcriptional control; Sarcoma; Soft-tissue malignancies; Telomerase; Telomeres; Translational control.
© 2019. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.