Flavopiridol targets c-KIT transcription and induces apoptosis in gastrointestinal stromal tumor cells
Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors
Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit
Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are characterized by activating mutations in the c-KIT gene which confers ligand-independent activation of the KIT receptor. Imatinib mesylate has been shown to effectively block constitutively active KIT and delay tumor growth. However, resistance to imatinib mesylate is emerging as a major clinical problem and novel therapies are needed. We report that treatment of GIST cells with the transcriptional inhibitor flavopiridol, initially down-regulates the antiapoptotic proteins bcl-2, mcl-1, and X-linked inhibitor of apoptosis protein which occurs as early as 4 hours after exposure. This is followed at 24 hours by the transcriptional suppression of KIT resulting in poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage and apoptosis. To separate the apoptotic effect of KIT suppression relative to the down-regulation of antiapoptotic proteins, we used small interfering RNA-directed knockdown of KIT. Results show that focused suppression of KIT alone is sufficient to induce apoptosis in GIST cells, but not to the same extent as flavopiridol. In contrast, imatinib mesylate, which inhibits KIT kinase activity but does not suppress total KIT expression, fails to cause apoptosis. We also show that flavopiridol suppresses KIT mRNA expression through positive transcriptional elongation factor inhibition and decreases KIT promoter activity. This causes a global decrease in the level of functionally mature KIT at the cell surface, resulting in a decrease in autophosphorylation at tyrosine residues 703 and 721, which characterizes activated KIT. Our results indicate that targeting KIT expression and these antiapoptotic proteins with flavopiridol represents a novel means to disrupt GIST cell dependence on KIT signaling and collectively renders these cells sensitive to apoptosis.