The clinically aggressive alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) subtype is characterized by expression of the oncogenic fusion protein PAX3-FOXO1, which is critical for tumorigenesis and cell survival. Here, we studied the mechanism of cell death induced by loss of PAX3-FOXO1 expression and identified a novel pharmacologic combination therapy that interferes with PAX3-FOXO1 biology at different levels. Depletion of PAX3-FOXO1 in fusion-positive (FP)-RMS cells induced intrinsic apoptosis in a NOXA-dependent manner. This was pharmacologically mimicked by the BH3 mimetic navitoclax, identified as top compound in a screen from 208 targeted compounds. In a parallel approach, and to identify drugs that alter the stability of PAX3-FOXO1 protein, the same drug library was screened and fusion protein levels were directly measured as a read-out. This revealed that inhibition of Aurora kinase A most efficiently negatively affected PAX3-FOXO1 protein levels. Interestingly, this occurred through a novel specific phosphorylation event in and binding to the fusion protein. Aurora kinase A inhibition also destabilized MYCN, which is both a functionally important oncogene and transcriptional target of PAX3-FOXO1. Combined treatment with an Aurora kinase A inhibitor and navitoclax in FP-RMS cell lines and patient-derived xenografts synergistically induced cell death and significantly slowed tumor growth. These studies identify a novel functional interaction of Aurora kinase A with both PAX3-FOXO1 and its effector MYCN, and reveal new opportunities for targeted combination treatment of FP-RMS. SIGNIFICANCE: These findings show that Aurora kinase A and Bcl-2 family proteins are potential targets for FP-RMS.
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.