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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Targeting cyclin-dependent kinase 1 (CDK1) but not CDK4/6 or CDK2 is selectively lethal to MYC-dependent human breast cancer cells

Jian Kang1, C Marcelo Sergio1, Robert L Sutherland12 and Elizabeth A Musgrove123*

Author Affiliations

1 The Kinghorn Cancer Centre and Cancer Research Division, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, 370 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney, NSW, Australia

2 St Vincent’s Clinical School, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, NSW, Australia

3 Wolfson Wohl Cancer Research Centre, University of Glasgow, Garscube Estate, Switchback Road, Bearsden, Glasgow G61 1BD, Scotland, UK

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:32  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-32

Published: 20 January 2014

Abstract

Background

Although MYC is an attractive therapeutic target for breast cancer treatment, it has proven challenging to inhibit MYC directly, and clinically effective pharmaceutical agents targeting MYC are not yet available. An alternative approach is to identify genes that are synthetically lethal in MYC-dependent cancer. Recent studies have identified several cell cycle kinases as MYC synthetic-lethal genes. We therefore investigated the therapeutic potential of specific cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibition in MYC-driven breast cancer.

Methods

Using small interfering RNA (siRNA), MYC expression was depleted in 26 human breast cancer cell lines and cell proliferation evaluated by BrdU incorporation. MYC-dependent and MYC-independent cell lines were classified based on their sensitivity to siRNA-mediated MYC knockdown. We then inhibited CDKs including CDK4/6, CDK2 and CDK1 individually using either RNAi or small molecule inhibitors, and compared sensitivity to CDK inhibition with MYC dependence in breast cancer cells.

Results

Breast cancer cells displayed a wide range of sensitivity to siRNA-mediated MYC knockdown. The sensitivity was correlated with MYC protein expression and MYC phosphorylation level. Sensitivity to siRNA-mediated MYC knockdown did not parallel sensitivity to the CDK4/6 inhibitor PD0332991; instead MYC-independent cell lines were generally sensitive to PD0332991. Cell cycle arrest induced by MYC knockdown was accompanied by a decrease in CDK2 activity, but inactivation of CDK2 did not selectively affect the viability of MYC-dependent breast cancer cells. In contrast, CDK1 inactivation significantly induced apoptosis and reduced viability of MYC-dependent cells but not MYC- independent cells. This selective induction of apoptosis by CDK1 inhibitors was associated with up-regulation of the pro-apoptotic molecule BIM and was p53-independent.

Conclusions

Overall, these results suggest that further investigation of CDK1 inhibition as a potential therapy for MYC-dependent breast cancer is warranted.

Keywords:
MYC; Cyclin-dependent kinase; Synthetic lethality; Breast cancer