A transposon screen identifies enhancement of NF-κB pathway as a mechanism of resistance to eribulin

Background: Eribulin mesylate (eribulin) is an efficient microtubule inhibitor that is used for metastatic breast cancer. However, breast cancer can develop resistance to eribulin. This resistance mechanism needs to be elucidated.

Methods: A transposon mutagenesis screen was conducted using a pPB-SB-CMV-puro-SD plasmid and pCMV-PBase transposase. Viability and cytotoxicity were analyzed by MTT assay and flow cytometry, respectively. Real-time PCR and western blot were used for gene expression analysis. In addition, vivo study was also designed to analyze therapy efficiency.

Results: TAB2, which is part of the nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB) pathway, was identified as a candidate eribulin-resistant gene. TAB2 down-regulation resulted in significantly lower cell viability and higher cytotoxicity of cells treated with eribulin, while TAB2 up-regulation showed opposite results. Similarly, combination of NF-κB inhibitors [Bay-117082 and QNZ (quinazoline derivative)] with eribulin showed significantly lower cell viability and higher drug cytotoxicity than single agent treatment with eribulin in MDA-MB-231 cells. However, QNZ increased NF-κB activity in MCF7 cells by up-regulating TAB2, which reduced the sensitivity to eribulin. Furthermore, combination of Bay-117082 with eribulin induced greater regression of MDA-MB-231 tumors compared to eribulin monotherapy in vivo.

Conclusions: These results consistently illustrated that TAB2-NF-κB pathway may increases resistance to eribulin in breast cancer models. Moreover, these results support the use of a combination strategy of eribulin with NF-κB inhibitors, and provide evidence that transposon mutagenesis screens are capable of identifying drug-resistant genes.

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