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Mol Cancer Ther. 2011 Apr;10(4):670-8. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-10-0781. Epub 2011 Feb 2.

Context dependence of checkpoint kinase 1 as a therapeutic target for pancreatic cancers deficient in the BRCA2 tumor suppressor.

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Department of Oncology and the Medical Research Council Cancer Cell Unit, University of Cambridge, Hutchison/MRC Research Centre, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0XZ, United Kingdom.


Inherited mutations in the tumor suppressor BRCA2 are predisposed to pancreatic adenocarcinomas, which carry activating mutations in the KRAS oncogene in more than 95% of cases, as well as frequent TP53 inactivation. Here, we have established an RNA interference (RNAi) screen to identify genes whose depletion selectively inhibits the growth of cells lacking BRCA2, and then studied the effects of the genetic depletion or pharmacologic inhibition of 1 candidate, the checkpoint kinase 1 (CHK1), in the context of pancreatic cancer. Pharmacologic inhibition of CHK1 using small-molecule inhibitors (CHK1i) reduced cell growth in several cell lines depleted of BRCA2. Unexpectedly, these drugs did not suppress the growth of BRCA2-deficient pancreatic cancer cell lines from humans or gene-targeted mice expressing active Kras and trans-dominant inhibitory mutant Trp53. Remarkably, the expression of KRAS(G12V) and TP53(G154V) in BRCA2-depleted HEK293 cells was sufficient to render them resistant to CHK1i (but not to mitomycin C or inhibitors of PARP1). CHK1i sensitivity was restored by gemcitabine, an S-phase genotoxin used to treat pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Thus, the growth-suppressive effect of CHK1 inhibition in BRCA2-mutant tumors can be opposed by concurrent KRAS activation and TP53 mutations typical of pancreatic adenocarcinoma, and CHK1i resistance in this setting can be overcome by gemcitabine. Our findings show that approaches that use potential therapeutic targets for cancer identified in synthetic lethal RNAi screens are affected by the genetic context of specific malignancies and combination therapy with other agents. This concept should be taken into account in the ongoing and future development of targeted cancer therapies.

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