Role of mTOR As an Essential Kinase in SCLC

J Thorac Oncol. 2020 Sep;15(9):1522-1534. doi: 10.1016/j.jtho.2020.05.026. Epub 2020 Jun 26.


Objectives: SCLC represents 15% of all lung cancer diagnoses in the United States and has a particularly poor prognosis. We hypothesized that kinases regulating SCLC survival pathways represent therapeutically targetable vulnerabilities whose inhibition may improve SCLC outcome.

Methods: A short-hairpin RNA (shRNA) library targeting all human kinases was introduced in seven chemonaive patient-derived xenografts (PDX) and the cells were cultured in vitro and in vivo. On harvest, lost or depleted shRNAs were considered as regulating-cell survival pathways and deemed essential kinases.

Results: Unsupervised hierarchical cluster analysis of recovered shRNAs separated the PDXs into two clusters, suggesting kinase-based heterogeneity among the SCLC PDXs. A total of 23 kinases were identified as essential in two or more PDXs, with mechanistic Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) a candidate essential kinase in four. mTOR phosphorylation status correlated with PDX sensitivity to mTOR kinase inhibition, and mTOR inhibition sensitized the PDX to cisplatin and etoposide. In the PDX in which mTOR was defined as essential, mTOR inhibition caused a 43% decrease in tumor volume at 21 days (p < 0.01). Combining mTOR inhibition with cisplatin and etoposide decreased PDX tumor volume 96% compared with cisplatin and etoposide alone at 70 days (p < 0.002). Chemoresistance did not develop with the combination of mTOR inhibition and cisplatin and etoposide in mTOR-essential PDX over 105 days. The prevalence of phospho-mTOR-Ser-2448 in a tissue microarray of chemonaive SCLC was 27%, thus, identifying an important SCLC subtype that might benefit from the addition of mTOR inhibition to standard chemotherapy.

Conclusions: These studies reveal that kinases can define SCLC subgroups, can identify therapeutic vulnerabilities, and can potentially be used to optimize therapeutic approaches. Significance We used functional genomics to identify kinases regulating SCLC survival. mTOR was identified as essential in a subset of PDXs. mTOR inhibition decreased PDX growth, sensitized PDX to cisplatin and etoposide, and prevented chemoresistance.

Keywords: Functional genomics; Kinase; Kinome; Small cell lung cancer; mTOR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cisplatin / pharmacology
  • Etoposide / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Sirolimus
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma* / drug therapy
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma* / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Etoposide
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Cisplatin
  • Sirolimus