Targeted cancer therapy is based on exploiting selective dependencies of tumor cells. By leveraging recent functional screening data of cancer cell lines we identify Werner syndrome helicase (WRN) as a novel specific vulnerability of microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) cancer cells. MSI, caused by defective mismatch repair (MMR), occurs frequently in colorectal, endometrial and gastric cancers. We demonstrate that WRN inactivation selectively impairs the viability of MSI-H but not microsatellite stable (MSS) colorectal and endometrial cancer cell lines. In MSI-H cells, WRN loss results in severe genome integrity defects. ATP-binding deficient variants of WRN fail to rescue the viability phenotype of WRN-depleted MSI-H cancer cells. Reconstitution and depletion studies indicate that WRN dependence is not attributable to acute loss of MMR gene function but might arise during sustained MMR-deficiency. Our study suggests that pharmacological inhibition of WRN helicase function represents an opportunity to develop a novel targeted therapy for MSI-H cancers.
Keywords: WRN; cancer biology; colorectal cancer; helicase; human; microsatellite instability; mismatch repair; targeted therapy.
© 2019, Lieb et al.