Activation of Hedgehog signaling by the oncogenic RELA fusion reveals a primary cilia-dependent vulnerability in Supratentorial Ependymoma

Neuro Oncol. 2022 May 31;noac147. doi: 10.1093/neuonc/noac147. Online ahead of print.


Background: Supratentorial RELA fusion (ST-RELA) ependymomas (EPNs) are resistant tumors without an approved chemotherapeutic treatment. Unfortunately, the molecular mechanisms that leads to chemoresistance traits of ST-RELA remains elusive. The aim of this study was to assess RELA fusion-dependent signaling modules, specifically the role of the Hedgehog (Hh) pathway as a novel targetable vulnerability in ST-RELA.

Methods: Gene expression was analyzed in EPN from patient cohorts, by microarray, RNA-seq, qRT-PCR, and scRNA-seq. Inhibitors against Smoothened (SMO) (Sonidegib) and Aurora-kinase A (AURKA) (Alisertib) were evaluated. Protein expression, primary cilia formation, and drug effects were assessed by immunoblot, immunofluorescence and immunohistochemistry.

Results: Hh components were selectively overexpressed in EPNs induced by the RELA fusion. Single-cell analysis showed that the Hh signature was primarily confined to undifferentiated, stem-like cell subpopulations. Sonidegib exhibited potent growth-inhibitory effects on ST-RELA cells, suggesting a key role for active Hh signaling; importantly, the effect of Sonidegib was reversed by primary cilia loss. We thus tested the effect of AURKA inhibition by Alisertib, to induce cilia stabilization/reassembly. Strikingly, Alisertib rescued ciliogenesis and synergized with Sonidegib in killing ST-RELA cells. Using a xenograft model, we show that cilia loss is a mechanism for acquiring resistance to the inhibitory effect of Sonidegib. However, Alisertib fails to rescue cilia and highlights the need for other strategies to promote cilia reassembly, for treating ST-RELA tumors.

Conclusion: Our study reveals a crucial role for the Hh pathway in ST-RELA tumor growth, and suggests that rescue of primary cilia represents a vulnerability of the ST-RELA EPNs.

Keywords: Alisertib; Hedgehog pathway; ST-RELA ependymoma; Sonidegib; primary cilia.