Sunitinib activates Axl signaling in renal cell cancer

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Abstract

Mass spectrometry-based phosphoproteomics provides a unique unbiased approach to evaluate signaling network in cancer cells. The tyrosine kinase inhibitor sunitinib is registered as treatment for patients with renal cell cancer (RCC). We investigated the effect of sunitinib on tyrosine phosphorylation in RCC tumor cells to get more insight in its mechanism of action and thereby to find potential leads for combination treatment strategies. Sunitinib inhibitory concentrations of proliferation (IC50) of 786-O, 769-p and A498 RCC cells were determined by MTT-assays. Global tyrosine phosphorylation was measured by LC-MS/MS after immunoprecipitation with the antiphosphotyrosine antibody p-TYR-100. Phosphoproteomic profiling of 786-O cells yielded 1519 phosphopeptides, corresponding to 675 unique proteins including 57 different phosphorylated protein kinases. Compared to control, incubation with sunitinib at its IC50 of 2 μM resulted in downregulation of 86 phosphopeptides including CDK5, DYRK3, DYRK4, G6PD, PKM and LDH-A, while 94 phosphopeptides including Axl, FAK, EPHA2 and p38α were upregulated. Axl- (y702), FAK- (y576) and p38α (y182) upregulation was confirmed by Western Blot in 786-O and A498 cells. Subsequent proliferation assays revealed that inhibition of Axl with a small molecule inhibitor (R428) sensitized 786-O RCC cells and immortalized endothelial cells to sunitinib up to 3 fold. In conclusion, incubation with sunitinib of RCC cells causes significant upregulation of multiple phosphopeptides including Axl. Simultaneous inhibition of Axl improves the antitumor activity of sunitinib. We envision that evaluation of phosphoproteomic changes by TKI treatment enables identification of new targets for combination treatment strategies.

What's new?

Sunitinib, a first-line therapy for advanced renal cell carcinoma, produces durable responses in patients. Nonetheless, as with other receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), tumors inevitably become resistant to the drug. Here, phosphoproteomic profiling reveals that sunitinib not only reduces the phosphorylation of numerous proteins, consistent with TKI activity, but also enhances the phosphorylation of other proteins, including the pro-survival players FAK and Axl. Combination treatment with an Axl inhibitor potentiated the antitumor activity of sunitinib. The findings shed light on the pharmacodynamic effects of sunitinib and provide insight into leads for overcoming resistance.

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