Purpose: Cyclin-dependent kinase 4/6 (CDK4/6) inhibitors are currently used in combination with endocrine therapy to treat advanced hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer. Although this treatment doubles time to progression compared with endocrine therapy alone, about 25%-35% of patients do not respond, and almost all patients eventually acquire resistance. Discerning the mechanisms of resistance to CDK4/6 inhibition is crucial in devising alternative treatment strategies.
Experimental design: Palbociclib-resistant cells (MCF-7 and T47D) were generated in a step-wise dose-escalading fashion. Whole-exome sequencing, genome-wide expression analysis, and proteomic analysis were performed in both resistant and parental (sensitive) cells. Pathway alteration was assessed mechanistically and pharmacologically. Biomarkers of altered pathways were examined in tumor samples from patients with palbociclib-treated breast cancer whose disease progressed while on treatment.
Results: Palbociclib-resistant cells are cross-resistant to other CDK4/6 inhibitors and are also resistant to endocrine therapy (estrogen receptor downregulation). IL6/STAT3 pathway is induced, whereas DNA repair and estrogen receptor pathways are downregulated in the resistant cells. Combined inhibition of STAT3 and PARP significantly increased cell death in the resistant cells. Matched tumor samples from patients with breast cancer who progressed on palbociclib were examined for deregulation of estrogen receptor, DNA repair, and IL6/STAT3 signaling, and results revealed that these pathways are all altered as compared with the pretreatment tumor samples.
Conclusions: Palbociclib resistance induces endocrine resistance, estrogen receptor downregulation, and alteration of IL6/STAT3 and DNA damage response pathways in cell lines and patient samples. Targeting IL6/STAT3 activity and DNA repair deficiency using a specific STAT3 inhibitor combined with a PARP inhibitor could effectively treat acquired resistance to palbociclib.
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.