ATF6 prevents DNA damage and cell death in colon cancer cells undergoing ER stress

Cell Death Discov. 2022 Jun 25;8(1):295. doi: 10.1038/s41420-022-01085-3.


Colon cancer represents one of the most common and aggressive cancers in its advanced state. Among the most innovative anti-cancer approaches, the manipulation of UPR is a promising one, effective also against cancers carrying dysfunctional p53. Interestingly, it is emerging that UPR cross-talks with DDR and that targeting the interplay between these two adaptive responses may be exploited to overcome the resistance to the single DDR- and UPR-targeting treatments. Previous studies have highlighted the role of IRE1 alpha and PERK UPR sensors on DDR, while the impact of ATF6 on this process remains under-investigated. This study shows for the first time that ATF6 sustains the expression level of BRCA-1 and protects colon cancer cells from the cytotoxic effect of ER stressors DPE and Thapsigargin. At molecular level, ATF6 activates mTOR to sustain the expression of HSP90, of which BRCA-1 is a client protein. Therefore, pharmacological or genetic inhibition of ATF6 promoted BRCA-1 degradation and increased DNA damage and cell death, particularly in combination with Adriamycin. All together this study suggests that targeting ATF6 may not only potentiate the cytotoxic effect of drugs triggering ER stress but may render colon cancer cells more sensitive to Adriamycin and possibly to other DNA damaging agents used to treat colon cancer.