Targeting of TP53-independent cell cycle checkpoints overcomes FOLFOX resistance in Metastatic Colorectal Cancer

Corina Behrenbruch, Momeneh Foroutan, Phoebe Lind, Jai Smith, Mélodie Grandin, Benjamin Cooper, Carolyn Shembrey, Susanne Ramm, Karla Cowley, Iva Nikolic, Jennii Luu, Joseph Cursons, Rosie Millen, Ann-Marie Patch, Nicholas D. Huntington, Alain Puisieux, Michael Michael, Brett P.F. Knowles, Benjamin N J Thomson, Robert G. RamsaySean M. Grimmond, Kaylene Simpson, Alexander G. Heriot, Frédéric Hollande

Research output: Other contributionResearch


Patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) frequently develop liver metastases during the course of their disease. A substantial proportion of them receive neoadjuvant FOLFOX (5-Fluorouracil, Oxaliplatin, Leucovorin) prior to surgery in an attempt to enable successful surgical removal of their metastases and to reduce the risk of recurrence. Yet, the majority of patients progress during treatment or recur following surgery, and molecular mechanisms that contribute to FOLFOX resistance remain poorly understood. Here, using a combination of phenotypic, transcriptomic and genomic analyses of both tumor samples derived from patients with metastatic CRC and matching patient-derived tumor organoids (PDTOs), we characterize a novel FOLFOX resistance mechanism and identify inhibitors that target this mechanism to resensitize metastatic organoids to FOLFOX. Resistant PDTOs, identified after in vitro exposure to FOLFOX, exhibited elevated expression of E2F pathway, S phase, G2/M and spindle assembly checkpoints (SAC) genes. Similar molecular features were detected in CRLM from patients with progressive disease while under neoadjuvant FOLFOX treatment, highlighting the relevance of this finding. FOLFOX resistant PDTOs displayed inactivating mutations of TP53 and exhibited transcriptional features of P53 pathway downregulation. We found that they accumulated in early S-phase and underwent significant DNA damage during FOLFOX exposure, thereafter arresting in G2/M while they repaired their DNA after FOLFOX withdrawal. In parallel, results of a large kinase inhibitor screen indicated that drugs targeting regulators of the DNA damage response, G2M checkpoint and SAC had cytotoxic effects on PDTOs generated from patients whose disease progressed during treatment with FOLFOX. Corroborating this finding, CHK1 and WEE1 inhibitors were found to synergize with FOLFOX and sensitize previously resistant PDTOs. Additionally, targeting the SAC master regulator MPS1 using empesertib after exposure to FOLFOX, when cells accumulate in G2M, was also very effective to kill FOLFOX-resistant PDTOs. Our results indicate that targeted and timely inhibition of specific cell cycle checkpoints shows great potential to improve response rates to FOLFOX in patients with metastatic CRC, for whom therapeutic alternatives remain extremely limited.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputbioRxiv
Number of pages55
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2021

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