Patients with late-stage and human papillomavirus (HPV)-negative head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) continue to have a very poor prognosis. The development of more effective novel therapies that improve overall survival and overcome drug resistance is an urgent priority. Here we report that HNSCC tumors significantly overexpress NEDD8 and exhibit high sensitivity to the first-in-class NEDD8-activating enzyme (NAE) inhibitor pevonedistat. Additional studies established that disruption of NEDD8-mediated protein turnover with pevonedistat dramatically augmented cisplatin-induced DNA damage and apoptosis in HNSCC models. Further analysis revealed that the specific pevonedistat target CUL4A played an essential role in driving the synergy of the pevonedistat and cisplatin combination. Targeted inhibition of CUL4A resulted in significant downregulation in Damage Specific DNA binding protein 2 (DDB2), a DNA-damage recognition protein that promotes nucleotide excision repair and resistance to cisplatin. Silencing of CUL4A or DDB2 enhanced cisplatin-induced DNA damage and apoptosis in a manner similar to that of pevonedistat demonstrating that targeted inhibition of CUL4A may be a novel approach to augment cisplatin therapy. Administration of pevonedistat to mice bearing HNSCC tumors significantly decreased DDB2 expression in tumor cells, increased DNA damage and potently enhanced the activity of cisplatin to yield tumor regression and long-term survival of all animals. Our findings provide strong rationale for clinical investigation of CUL4A inhibition with pevonedistat as a novel strategy to augment the efficacy of cisplatin therapy for patients with HNSCC and identify loss of DDB2 as a key pharmacodynamic mediator controlling sensitivity to this regimen.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research