Cancer cells are characterized for their avid demand for active transcription, which reaches the level of a real addiction in solid tumors as small cell lung cancer (SCLC) or triple-negative breast cancer. Pharmacological modulation of transcription may thus provide a therapeutic approach to treat tumor types that depend on deregulated transcription for the maintenance of their oncogenic state. Lurbinectedin, currently under evaluation in a Phase III clinical trial for platinum-resistant ovarian cancer patients, and with very promising activity in combination with doxorubicin in SCLC, inhibits active transcription. Here we demonstrate that, after binding to specific DNA triplets highly represented in the CG-rich region surrounding the promoter of genes, this drug induces a rapid degradation of RNA Polymerase II (Pol II). Our results show that the hyperphosphorylated form of Pol II, already engaged in transcription elongation and likely blocked during this process by the lurbinectedin-DNA adduct, is then specifically submitted to the ubiquitin/proteasome degradation process, which finally removes the majority of the Pol II protein pool in treated cells. Disappearance of Pol II is followed by the formation of DNA breaks, process in which the nucleotide excision repair (NER) machinery, specifically the endonuclease XPF, has an important role. Pol II degradation and subsequent DNA damage were not only abrogated by inhibitors of CDK7 and CDK9 cyclin dependent kinases (DRB and flavopyridol), ubiquitin ligation (PYR-41), or proteasome activity (MG132), but also correlated with the antiproliferative activity of lurbinectedin in different cancer cell line models. In summary, lurbinectedin exemplifies a prototype drug for targeting transcriptional dependency in tumor cells and, thus, it could represent a new therapeutic alternative for solid tumors with this addiction.

Citation Format: Gema Santamaria-Nunez, Carlos M. Genes-Robles, Juan F. Martínez-Leal, Carlos M. Galmarini, Jean Marc Egly. Lurbinectedin specifically targets transcription in cancer cells, triggering DNA breaks and degradation of phosphorylated Pol II. [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 3039.