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Targeted therapies are based on exploiting cancer-cell-specific genetic features or phenotypic traits to selectively kill cancer cells while leaving normal cells unaffected. Oxidative stress is a cancer hallmark phenotype. Given that free nucleotide pools are particularly vulnerable to oxidation, the nucleotide pool sanitising enzyme, MTH1, is potentially conditionally essential in cancer cells. However, findings from previous MTH1 studies have been contradictory, meaning the relevance of MTH1 in cancer is still to be determined. Here we ascertained the role of MTH1 specifically in lung cancer cell maintenance, and the potential of MTH1 inhibition as a targeted therapy strategy to improve lung cancer treatments.
Using siRNA-mediated knockdown or small-molecule inhibition, we tested the genotoxic and cytotoxic effects of MTH1 deficiency on H23 (p53-mutated), H522 (p53-mutated) and A549 (wildtype p53) non-small cell lung cancer cell lines relative to normal MRC-5 lung fibroblasts. We also assessed if MTH1 inhibition augments current therapies.
MTH1 knockdown increased levels of oxidatively damaged DNA and DNA damage signaling alterations in all lung cancer cell lines but not normal fibroblasts, despite no detectable differences in reactive oxygen species levels between any cell lines. Furthermore, MTH1 knockdown reduced H23 cell proliferation. However, unexpectedly, it did not induce apoptosis in any cell line or enhance the effects of gemcitabine, cisplatin or radiation in combination treatments. Contrastingly, TH287 and TH588 MTH1 inhibitors induced apoptosis in H23 and H522 cells, but only increased oxidative DNA damage levels in H23, indicating that they kill cells independently of DNA oxidation and seemingly via MTH1-distinct mechanisms.
MTH1 has a NSCLC-specific p53-independent role for suppressing DNA oxidation and genomic instability, though surprisingly the basis of this may not be reactive-oxygen-species-associated oxidative stress. Despite this, overall our cell viability data indicates that targeting MTH1 will likely not be an across-the-board effective NSCLC therapeutic strategy; rather it induces non-cytotoxic DNA damage that could promote cancer heterogeneity and evolution.