A phenotypic screening approach to target p60AmotL2-expressing invasive cancer cells

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2024 Apr 9;43(1):107. doi: 10.1186/s13046-024-03031-w.


Background: Tumor cells have the ability to invade and form small clusters that protrude into adjacent tissues, a phenomenon that is frequently observed at the periphery of a tumor as it expands into healthy tissues. The presence of these clusters is linked to poor prognosis and has proven challenging to treat using conventional therapies. We previously reported that p60AmotL2 expression is localized to invasive colon and breast cancer cells. In vitro, p60AmotL2 promotes epithelial cell invasion by negatively impacting E-cadherin/AmotL2-related mechanotransduction.

Methods: Using epithelial cells transfected with inducible p60AmotL2, we employed a phenotypic drug screening approach to find compounds that specifically target invasive cells. The phenotypic screen was performed by treating cells for 72 h with a library of compounds with known antitumor activities in a dose-dependent manner. After assessing cell viability using CellTiter-Glo, drug sensitivity scores for each compound were calculated. Candidate hit compounds with a higher drug sensitivity score for p60AmotL2-expressing cells were then validated on lung and colon cell models, both in 2D and in 3D, and on colon cancer patient-derived organoids. Nascent RNA sequencing was performed after BET inhibition to analyse BET-dependent pathways in p60AmotL2-expressing cells.

Results: We identified 60 compounds that selectively targeted p60AmotL2-expressing cells. Intriguingly, these compounds were classified into two major categories: Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) inhibitors and Bromodomain and Extra-Terminal motif (BET) inhibitors. The latter consistently demonstrated antitumor activity in human cancer cell models, as well as in organoids derived from colon cancer patients. BET inhibition led to a shift towards the upregulation of pro-apoptotic pathways specifically in p60AmotL2-expressing cells.

Conclusions: BET inhibitors specifically target p60AmotL2-expressing invasive cancer cells, likely by exploiting differences in chromatin accessibility, leading to cell death. Additionally, our findings support the use of this phenotypic strategy to discover novel compounds that can exploit vulnerabilities and specifically target invasive cancer cells.

Keywords: AmotL2; BET inhibitors; Cancer; Cancer invasion; Mechanotransduction; Metastasis; Nascent RNA-seq; Patient-derived organoids; Phenotypic drug screening; p60AmotL2.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colonic Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Colonic Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Humans
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular*