Capicua-double homeobox 4 (CIC-DUX4)–rearranged sarcomas (CDS) are extremely rare, highly aggressive primary sarcomas that represent a major therapeutic challenge. Patients are treated according to Ewing sarcoma protocols, but CDS-specific therapies are strongly needed. In this study, RNA sequencing was performed on patient samples to identify a selective signature that differentiates CDS from Ewing sarcoma and other fusion-driven sarcomas. This signature was used to validate the representativeness of newly generated CDS experimental models—patient-derived xenografts (PDX) and PDX-derived cell lines—and to identify specific therapeutic vulnerabilities. Annotation analysis of differentially expressed genes and molecular gene validation highlighted an HMGA2/IGF2BP/IGF2/IGF1R/AKT/mTOR axis that characterizes CDS and renders the tumors particularly sensitive to combined treatments with trabectedin and PI3K/mTOR inhibitors. Trabectedin inhibited IGF2BP/IGF2/IGF1R activity, but dual inhibition of the PI3K and mTOR pathways was required to completely dampen downstream signaling mediators. Proof-of-principle efficacy for the combination of the dual AKT/mTOR inhibitor NVP-BEZ235 (dactolisib) with trabectedin was obtained in vitro and in vivo using CDS PDX-derived cell lines, demonstrating a strong inhibition of local tumor growth and multiorgan metastasis. Overall, the development of representative experimental models (PDXs and PDX-derived cell lines) has helped to identify the unique sensitivity of the CDS to AKT/mTOR inhibitors and trabectedin, revealing a mechanism-based therapeutic strategy to fight this lethal cancer.

Significance:

This study identifies altered HMGA2/IGF2BP/IGF2 signaling in CIC-DUX4 sarcomas and provides proof of principle for combination therapy with trabectedin and AKT/mTOR dual inhibitors to specifically combat the disease.

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