Catastrophic ATP loss underlies a metabolic combination therapy tailored for MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Mar 30;118(13):e2009620118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2009620118.


MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma is a lethal subset of pediatric cancer. MYCN drives numerous effects in the cell, including metabolic changes that are critical for oncogenesis. The understanding that both compensatory pathways and intrinsic redundancy in cell systems exists implies that the use of combination therapies for effective and durable responses is necessary. Additionally, the most effective targeted therapies exploit an "Achilles' heel" and are tailored to the genetics of the cancer under study. We performed an unbiased screen on select metabolic targeted therapy combinations and correlated sensitivity with over 20 subsets of cancer. We found that MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma is hypersensitive to the combination of an inhibitor of the lactate transporter MCT1, AZD3965, and complex I of the mitochondrion, phenformin. Our data demonstrate that MCT4 is highly correlated with resistance to the combination in the screen and lowly expressed in MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma. Low MCT4 combines with high expression of the MCT2 and MCT1 chaperone CD147 in MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma, altogether conferring sensitivity to the AZD3965 and phenformin combination. The result is simultaneous disruption of glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation, resulting in dramatic disruption of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production, endoplasmic reticulum stress, and cell death. In mouse models of MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma, the combination was tolerable at concentrations where it shrank tumors and did not increase white-blood-cell toxicity compared to single drugs. Therefore, we demonstrate that a metabolic combination screen can identify vulnerabilities in subsets of cancer and put forth a metabolic combination therapy tailored for MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma that demonstrates efficacy and tolerability in vivo.

Keywords: MYCN; apoptosis; lactate; metabolomics; neuroblastoma.