Genomic studies support the classification of small cell lung cancer (SCLC) into subtypes based on expression of lineage-defining transcription factors ASCL1 and NEUROD1, which together are expressed in ~86% of SCLC. ASCL1 and NEUROD1 activate SCLC oncogene expression, drive distinct transcriptional programs, and maintain the in vitro growth and oncogenic properties of ASCL1 or NEUROD1-expressing SCLC. ASCL1 is also required for tumor formation in SCLC mouse models. A strategy to inhibit the activity of these oncogenic drivers may therefore provide both a targeted therapy for the predominant SCLC subtypes, and a tool to investigate the underlying lineage-plasticity of established SCLC tumors. However, there are no known agents that inhibit ASCL1 or NEUROD1 function. In this study, we identify a novel strategy to pharmacologically target ASCL1 and NEUROD1 activity in SCLC, by exploiting the nuclear localization required for function of these transcription factors. Karyopherin β1 (KPNB1) was identified as a nuclear import receptor for both ASCL1 and NEUROD1 in SCLC, and inhibition of KPNB1 led to impaired ASCL1 and NEUROD1 nuclear accumulation and transcriptional activity. Pharmacologic targeting of KPNB1 preferentially disrupted the growth of ASCL1+ and NEUROD1+ SCLC cells in vitro, and suppressed ASCL1+ tumor growth in vivo, an effect mediated by a combination of impaired ASCL1 downstream target expression, cell cycle activity, and proteostasis. These findings broaden the support for targeting nuclear transport as an anticancer therapeutic strategy and have implications for targeting lineage transcription factors in tumors beyond SCLC.

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