The ability of cancer cells to adapt to non-cell autonomous (extrinsic) and cell autonomous (intrinsic) stresses is critical for maintaining cell viability and growth. The Integrated Stress Response (ISR) pathway is essential in cancer cell adaptation to extrinsic stresses such as hypoxia and nutrient deprivation both in vitro and in vivo. The ISR kinases, PERK and GCN2, phosphorylate eIF2α, transiently inhibiting protein translation during times of stress. Phosphorylation of eIF2α promotes the preferential translation of the transcription factor ATF4, which activates a gene expression program that enhances uptake and synthesis of amino acids, antioxidant defense and chaperone expression to promote recovery from nutrient deprivation and ER stress. Here, we demonstrate the importance of ISR signaling in MYC oncogene induced intrinsic stress both in vitro and in vivo.

We previously reported that activation of PERK, during c-Myc induction is vital for activating cytoprotective autophagy and suppressing c-Myc induced apoptosis. Here, we demonstrate GCN2 is also robustly activated during c-Myc induction. GCN2 activation after c-Myc induction regulates ATF4 transcription and translation. ATF4 was necessary for survival and suppression of oxidative stress during c-Myc activation. We have identified ATF4 targets that regulate amino acid uptake and involved in amelioration of oxidative stress. Furthermore, siRNA mediated knockdown or genetic knockout of GCN2 was synthetic lethal with c-Myc activation. Interestingly, PERK is still able to phosphorylate eIF2α in the absence of GCN2. However, eIF2α phosphorylation was completely inhibited in the absence of both kinases suggesting that these kinases compensate for each other and both are required for optimal phosphorylation of eIF2α after c-Myc activation. Consistent with our in vitro data, we observe higher levels of p-eIF2α and ATF4 in lymphoma cells compared to WT B cells in vivo in a mouse model of Myc driven lymphoma. These findings highlight a novel mechanism of stress response pathway activation to support c-Myc driven tumorigenesis involving an amino acid sensor kinase GCN2.

Citation Format: Feven Tameire, Maria A. Monroy, Constantinos Koumenis. The role of integrated stress response (ISR) transcription factor ATF4 in metabolic adaptation of tumors to c-Myc activation. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 107th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2016 Apr 16-20; New Orleans, LA. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2016;76(14 Suppl):Abstract nr 230.