Rhabdomyosarcoma cells are susceptible to cell death by LDK378 alone or in combination with sorafenib independently of anaplastic lymphoma kinase status

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Anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) is a receptor tyrosine kinase that is often overexpressed in rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS). However, its oncogenic and functional role in RMS remains unclear. Therefore, we investigated the antitumor activity of LDK378 (ceritinib), a new second-generation ALK inhibitor approved for patients with ALK-positive non-small-cell lung cancers. Here, we report that LDK378 reduces cell viability and induces cell death in RMS cell lines at low micromolar IC50 concentrations irrespective of ALK expression levels or phosphorylation status. Compared with Karpas 299 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cells carrying the NPM–ALK fusion gene, RMS cell lines proved to be far less sensitive to LDK378. The broad-range caspase inhibitor zVAD.fmk significantly protects RMS cells from LDK378-mediated cell death, indicating that LDK378 induces caspase-dependent apoptotic cell death. Before the onset of apoptosis, LDK378 reduces phosphorylation of AKT, S6 ribosomal protein, STAT3 and – to a lesser extent – phosphorylation of ERK, showing that it suppresses key survival pathways. Importantly, we identify a synergistic induction of cell death by combining subtoxic concentrations of LDK378 with the multitargeting kinase inhibitor sorafenib. Calculation of the combination index confirmed that this interaction is synergistic. Also, LDK378 cooperates with sorafenib to significantly reduce colony formation of RMS cells, showing that this combination affects long-term clonogenic growth. In conclusion, LDK378 induces caspase-dependent apoptotic cell death in RMS cells independent of their ALK status and synergizes at subtoxic concentrations with sorafenib to induce cell death. These findings have important implications for the use of LDK378 in RMS.

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