CHK1/2 inhibitor prexasertib suppresses notch signaling and enhances cytotoxicity of cisplatin and radiation in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma

Academic Article


  • Platinum-based chemoradiotherapy is a mainstay of organ-preserving therapy for patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cancer (HNSCC). However, the disease eventually becomes resistant to treatment necessitating new therapies. Checkpoint kinase 1 and 2 (CHK1/2) are serine/threonine kinases that activate cell-cycle checkpoints and serve a critical role in the DNA-damage response (DDR). As resistance to cisplatin and radiation may involve a heightened DDR, we hypothesized that prexasertib, an inhibitor of CHK1/2, may enhance the cytotoxicity induced by cisplatin and irradiation in HNSCC. In this study, we found that combining prexasertib with cisplatin and radiation significantly decreased the in vitro survival fraction in HNSCC cell lines both with and without radiotherapy. Reduced survival was accompanied by inhibition of DNA repair checkpoint activation, which resulted in persistent DNA damage and increased apoptosis. In addition, NanoString analysis with the PanCancer Pathways Panel revealed that prexasertib downregulated NOTCH signaling target genes (NOTCH1, NOTCH2, and NOTCH3) and their associated ligands (JAG1, JAG2, SKP2, MAML2, and DLL1). Prexasertib also reduced NOTCH1, NOTCH3 and HES1 protein expression. Importantly, a significant tumor growth delay was observed in vivo in both human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive UM-SCC47 and HPV-negative UM-SCC1 cell line xenografts treated with prexasertib, cisplatin, and radiotherapy without increased toxicity as measured by mouse body weight. Taken together, prexasertib reduced NOTCH signaling and enhanced the in vitro and in vivo response of HNSCCs to cisplatin and radiation, suggesting combination therapy may increase clinical benefit. A clinical trial has recently completed accrual (NCT02555644).
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Zeng L; Nikolaev A; Xing C; della Manna DL; Yang ES
  • Start Page

  • 1279
  • End Page

  • 1288
  • Volume

  • 19
  • Issue

  • 6