Overexpression of anti-apoptotic proteins MCL1 and Bcl-xL are frequently observed in many cancers. Inhibitors targeting MCL1 are in clinical development, however numerous cancer models are intrinsically resistant to this approach. To discover mechanisms underlying resistance to MCL1 inhibition, we performed multiple flow-cytometry based genome-wide CRISPR screens interrogating two drugs that directly (MCL1i) or indirectly (CDK9i) target MCL1. Remarkably, both screens identified three components (CUL5, RNF7 and UBE2F) of a cullin-RING ubiquitin ligase complex (CRL5) that resensitized cells to MCL1 inhibition. We find that levels of the BH3-only pro-apoptotic proteins Bim and Noxa are proteasomally regulated by the CRL5 complex. Accumulation of Noxa caused by depletion of CRL5 components was responsible for re-sensitization to CDK9 inhibitor, but not MCL1 inhibitor. Discovery of a novel role of CRL5 in apoptosis and resistance to multiple types of anticancer agents suggests the potential to improve combination treatments.
Keywords: CDK9 inhibitor; CUL5-RNF7-UBE2F ubiquitin ligase complex; MCL1 inhibitor; bim; cancer biology; cell biology; genome-wide CRISPRi screens; human; noxa.
© 2019, Kabir et al.