PTEN loss confers sensitivity to rapalogs in clear cell renal cell carcinoma

Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2022 Sep;43(9):2397-2409. doi: 10.1038/s41401-022-00862-1. Epub 2022 Feb 14.


Rapalogs (everolimus and temsirolimus) are allosteric mTORC1 inhibitors and approved agents for advanced clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC), although only a subset of patients derive clinical benefit. Progress in genomic characterization has made it possible to generate comprehensive profiles of genetic alterations in ccRCC; however, the correlations between recurrent somatic mutations and rapalog efficacy remain unclear. Here, we demonstrate by using multiple patient-derived ccRCC cell lines that compared to PTEN-proficient cells, PTEN-deficient cells exhibit hypersensitivity to rapalogs. Rapalogs inhibit cell proliferation by inducing G0/G1 arrest without inducing apoptosis in PTEN-deficient ccRCC cell lines. Using isogenic cell lines generated by CRISPR/Cas9, we validate the correlation between PTEN loss and rapalog hypersensitivity. In contrast, deletion of VHL or chromatin-modifying genes (PBRM1, SETD2, BAP1, or KDM5C) fails to influence the cellular response to rapalogs. Our mechanistic study shows that ectopic expression of an activating mTOR mutant (C1483F) antagonizes PTEN-induced cell growth inhibition, while introduction of a resistant mTOR mutant (A2034V) enables PTEN-deficient ccRCC cells to escape the growth inhibitory effect of rapalogs, suggesting that PTEN loss generates vulnerability to mTOR inhibition. PTEN-deficient ccRCC cells are more sensitive to the inhibitory effects of temsirolimus on cell migration and tumor growth in zebrafish and xenograft mice, respectively. Of note, PTEN protein loss as detected by immunohistochemistry is much more frequent than mutations in the PTEN gene in ccRCC patients. Our study suggests that PTEN loss correlates with rapalog sensitivity and could be used as a marker for ccRCC patient selection for rapalog therapy.

Keywords: PTEN; clear cell renal cell carcinoma; mTOR; rapalogs; recurrent mutations; sensitivity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell* / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell* / genetics
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Kidney Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Kidney Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Kidney Neoplasms* / pathology
  • MTOR Inhibitors
  • Mice
  • Mutation
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / genetics
  • Zebrafish / metabolism
  • Zebrafish Proteins


  • MTOR Inhibitors
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins
  • Vhl protein, zebrafish
  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • PTEN protein, human