Despite high response rates to initial chemotherapy, the majority of women diagnosed with High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer (HGSOC) ultimately develop drug resistance within 1-2 years of treatment. We previously identified the most common mechanism of acquired resistance in HGSOC to date, transcriptional fusions involving the ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter ABCB1, which has well established roles in multidrug resistance. However, the underlying biology of fusion-positive cells, as well as how clonal interactions between fusion-negative and positive populations influences proliferative fitness and therapeutic response remains unknown. Using a panel of fusion-negative and positive HGSOC single-cell clones, we demonstrate that in addition to mediating drug resistance, ABCB1 fusion-positive cells display impaired proliferative capacity, elevated oxidative metabolism, altered actin cellular morphology and an extracellular matrix/inflammatory enriched transcriptional profile. The co-culture of fusion-negative and positive populations had no effect on cellular proliferation but markedly altered drug sensitivity to doxorubicin, paclitaxel and cisplatin. Finally, high-throughput screening of 2907 FDA-approved compounds revealed 36 agents that induce equal cytotoxicity in both pure and mixed ABCB1 fusion populations. Collectively, our findings have unraveled the underlying biology of ABCB1 fusion-positive cells beyond drug resistance and identified novel therapeutic agents that may significantly improve the prognosis of relapsed HGSOC patients.
Keywords: ABCB1; drug resistance; high-grade serous ovarian cancer; high-throughput drug screening.