Antisense oligonucleotide-mediated MDM4 exon 6 skipping impairs tumor growth

MDM4 is a promising target for cancer therapy, as it is undetectable in most normal adult tissues but often upregulated in cancer cells to dampen p53 tumor-suppressor function. The mechanisms that underlie MDM4 upregulation in cancer cells are largely unknown. Here, we have shown that this key oncogenic event mainly depends on a specific alternative splicing switch. We determined that while a nonsense-mediated, decay-targeted isoform of MDM4 (MDM4-S) is produced in normal adult tissues as a result of exon 6 skipping, enhanced exon 6 inclusion leads to expression of full-length MDM4 in a large number of human cancers. Although this alternative splicing event is likely regulated by multiple splicing factors, we identified the SRSF3 oncoprotein as a key enhancer of exon 6 inclusion. In multiple human melanoma cell lines and in melanoma patient-derived xenograft (PDX) mouse models, antisense oligonucleotide-mediated (ASO-mediated) skipping of exon 6 decreased MDM4 abundance, inhibited melanoma growth, and enhanced sensitivity to MAPK-targeting therapeutics. Additionally, ASO-based MDM4 targeting reduced diffuse large B cell lymphoma PDX growth. As full-length MDM4 is enhanced in multiple human tumors, our data indicate that this strategy is applicable to a wide range of tumor types. We conclude that enhanced MDM4 exon 6 inclusion is a common oncogenic event and has potential as a clinically compatible therapeutic target.

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