Epigenetic Targeting of Mcl-1 Is Synthetically Lethal with Bcl-xL/Bcl-2 Inhibition in Model Systems of Glioblastoma

Cancers (Basel). 2020 Aug 1;12(8):2137. doi: 10.3390/cancers12082137.


Apoptotic resistance remains a hallmark of glioblastoma (GBM), the most common primary brain tumor in adults, and a better understanding of this process may result in more efficient treatments. By utilizing chromatin immunoprecipitation with next-generation sequencing (CHIP-seq), we discovered that GBMs harbor a super enhancer around the Mcl-1 locus, a gene that has been known to confer cell death resistance in GBM. We utilized THZ1, a known super-enhancer blocker, and BH3-mimetics, including ABT263, WEHI-539, and ABT199. Combined treatment with BH3-mimetics and THZ1 led to synergistic growth reduction in GBM models. Reduction in cellular viability was accompanied by significant cell death induction with features of apoptosis, including disruption of mitochondrial membrane potential followed by activation of caspases. Mechanistically, THZ1 elicited a profound disruption of the Mcl-1 enhancer region, leading to a sustained suppression of Mcl-1 transcript and protein levels, respectively. Mechanism experiments suggest involvement of Mcl-1 in the cell death elicited by the combination treatment. Finally, the combination treatment of ABT263 and THZ1 resulted in enhanced growth reduction of tumors without induction of detectable toxicity in two patient-derived xenograft models of GBM in vivo. Taken together, these findings suggest that combined epigenetic targeting of Mcl-1 along with Bcl-2/Bcl-xL is potentially therapeutically feasible.

Keywords: BH3-mimetics; Mcl1; THZ1; epigenome; non-coding regions; super-enhancer.