Inhibition of Rho-Associated Kinase Suppresses Medulloblastoma Growth

Cancers (Basel). 2019 Dec 26;12(1):73. doi: 10.3390/cancers12010073.


Medulloblastoma is one of the most common malignant brain tumor types in children, with an overall survival of 70%. Mortality is associated with metastatic relapsed tumors. Rho-associated kinases (ROCKs), important for epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and proper nervous system development, have previously been identified as a promising drug target to inhibit cancer growth and metastatic spread. Here, we show that ROCKs are expressed in medulloblastoma, with higher ROCK2 mRNA expression in metastatic compared to non-metastatic tumors. By evaluating three ROCK inhibitors in a panel of medulloblastoma cell lines we demonstrated that medulloblastoma cells were sensitive for pharmacological ROCK inhibition. The specific ROCK inhibitor RKI-1447 inhibited the tumorigenicity in medulloblastoma cells as well as impeded cell migration and invasion. Differential gene expression analysis suggested that ROCK inhibition was associated with the downregulation of signaling pathways important in proliferation and metastasis e.g., TNFα via NFκβ, TGFβ, and EMT. Expression of key proteins in these pathways such as RHOA, RHOB, JUN, and vimentin was downregulated in ROCK inhibited cells. Finally, we showed that ROCK inhibition by RKI-1447 suppressed medulloblastoma growth and proliferation in vivo. Collectively, our results suggest that ROCK inhibition presents a potential new therapeutic option in medulloblastoma, especially for children with metastatic disease.

Keywords: ROCK; ROCK inhibitor; Rho; Rho-associated kinase; epithelial-mesenchymal transition; medulloblastoma; metastasis.