Centrosome amplification is a hallmark of virtually all types of cancers, including solid tumors and hematologic malignancies. Cancer cells with extra centrosomes use centrosome clustering (CC) to allow for successful division. Because normal cells do not rely on this mechanism, CC is regarded as a promising target to selectively eradicate cells harboring supernumerary centrosomes. To identify novel inhibitors of CC, we developed a cell-based high-throughput screen that reports differential drug cytotoxicity for isogenic cell populations with different centrosome contents. We identified CP-673451 and crenolanib, two chemically related compounds originally developed for the inhibition of platelet-derived growth factor receptor β (PDGFR-β), as robust inhibitors of CC with selective cytotoxicity for cells with extra centrosomes. We demonstrate that these compounds induce mitotic spindle multipolarity by activation of the actin-severing protein cofilin, leading to destabilization of the cortical actin network, and provide evidence that this activation is dependent on slingshot phosphatases 1 and 2 but unrelated to PDGFR-β inhibition. More specifically, we found that although both compounds attenuated PDGF-BB–induced signaling, they significantly enhanced the phosphorylation of PDGFR-β downstream effectors, Akt and MEK, in almost all tested cancer cell lines under physiologic conditions. In summary, our data reveal a novel mechanism of CC inhibition depending on cofilin-mediated cortical actin destabilization and identify two clinically relevant compounds interfering with this tumor cell–specific target. Cancer Res; 76(22); 6690–700. ©2016 AACR.

Centrosomes are cytoplasmic organelles composed of a pair of centrioles, which nucleate and anchor microtubules. Centrosomes act as microtubule-organizing centers in animal cells and play a key role in mitotic fidelity by securing bipolar mitotic spindle formation and equal chromosome segregation (1, 2). The number of centrosomes is tightly regulated by ensuring that centrosomes are duplicated exactly once per cell cycle (3).

Centrosome amplification (CA) is found in most types of cancers. Although it is still not clear whether CA is a cause or a consequence of tumor initiation and progression, extra centrosomes strongly correlate with chromosomal instability, clinical aggressiveness, and adverse clinical outcome in several tumor types (4–10). Cancer cells carrying supernumerary centrosomes escape detrimental multipolar divisions by coalescing multiple centrosomes into two functional spindle poles, a process known as centrosome clustering (CC; ref. 11). CC contributes to chromosome segregation errors by generating merotelic microtubule–kinetochore attachment errors, leading to tolerable levels of genomic instability (12). Because most healthy tissues have normal centrosome content, they do not rely on CC for successful division, which makes this mechanism a promising therapeutic target.

In addition to microtubule motor proteins, including dynein, Ncd/HSET, and Eg5 (11, 13–15), a role for cortical actin in CC was initially suggested by a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila S2 cells, where depletion of several components of the actin cytoskeleton led to CC inhibition (13). Also, depletion of the actin-associated protein MISP destabilized attachments between astral microtubules and the actin cortex, led to defects in spindle orientation, and increased the incidence of multipolar spindles in cells with CA (16). Finally, CC requires a functional spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) to provide the necessary time for effective centrosome coalescence (13, 14, 17).

Cell-permeable small molecules that exclusively eradicate cells with extra centrosomes might be promising tools for targeted cancer therapy. CC can be inhibited by molecules that interfere with MT dynamics, such as taxanes, Vinca alkaloids, or the noscapinoid EM011 (18–20). However, these drugs are not selective for cells with supernumerary centrosomes. Molecules with increased selectivity include griseofulvin and its derivatives and HSET inhibitors, which effectively decluster multiple centrosomes, but lead at higher concentrations to the formation of multipolar spindles with acentriolar poles (13, 21–24).

Experimentally, cells with extra centrosomes can be obtained by increasing the expression levels of key components of the centriole replication machinery, such as Polo-like kinase 4 (PLK4) or the scaffolding proteins HsSAS-6 and STIL (25–30).

In this study, we employed a novel small-molecule screening strategy based on a differential viability readout between two isogenic cell populations with different centrosome content to identify CP-673451 and crenolanib, two class III receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) inhibitors, as CC inhibitors. We demonstrate that the inhibition of CC was attributed to activation of the actin-severing protein, cofilin, which constitutes a novel mechanism of cortical actin-mediated CC inhibition. Furthermore, our work sheds light on the mechanisms of CP-673451 and crenolanib-induced cofilin activation mediated by the slingshot phosphatases (SSH) SSH1 and SSH2.

Detailed experimental procedures are included in the Supplementary Data.

Cells and reagents

To generate EGFP-PLK4-U2OS, human osteosarcoma cells carrying the regulatory plasmid pcDNA6/TR were transfected with ToPuro-EGFP-PLK4. Plasmid generation is described in Supplementary Data. EGFP-PLK4-U2OS and H2B-mCherry-α-tubulin-EGFP-HeLa (31) cells were cultivated in DMEM + GlutaMAX (Life Technologies) supplemented with 10% FCS (Biochrom). All unmodified cancer cell lines were obtained from ATCC and authenticated by MCA (2014). For PDGF-BB stimulation, starved cells (0% FCS, 24 hours) were pretreated with drug or vehicle for 3 hours and stimulated with 500 μg/mL PDGF-BB (Biotrend) for 15 minutes. Inhibitors included LIMKi3 (Merck), damnacanthal (Enzo), griseofulvin (Sigma), BYL719, CP-673451, and crenolanib (Selleckchem). Cells were synchronized with 100 ng/mL nocodazole (24 hours) or 2 mmol/L thymidine (16–18 hours; Sigma).

Differential viability readout

EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells were split into two populations and incubated with 2 μg/mL tetracycline (Sigma) or vehicle. After 2 days, induced and noninduced cells were seeded in 384-well or 96-well plates and rested (24 hours) prior to small-molecule addition. After 5-day exposure, cell viabilities were determined with CellTiter-Glo (Promega).

Statistical analysis

Results are given as mean percentages ± SD. Significances were calculated by two-tailed t test or two-way ANOVA methods.

Immunoblotting

Cell lysis and immunoblotting was performed according to standard protocols. Antibodies used were as follows: cofilin, phospho-cofilin, phospho-Akt, phospho-MEK1/2, phospho-LIMK1/LIMK2, LIMK1, LIMK2, and SSH1 (CST); GFP, MCM7, PDGFR-β; HRP-conjugated secondary antibodies (Santa Cruz Biotechnology); α-tubulin (Sigma); Eg5 (BD), and phospho-Eg5 (Novus).

Time-lapse microscopy and image acquisition

Time-lapse microscopy was performed on a Zeiss Cell Observer.Z1 under controlled environmental conditions. The numbers of total mitotic cells counted are indicated over each bar. Fluorescence microscopy was performed as described previously (16) using a Zeiss Axiovert 200M. Antibodies used were as follows: Eg5 (BD); CP110 (Acris); γ-tubulin (Exbio); pericentrin (Abcam); AlexaFluor 488 or 568-conjugated secondary antibodies (Molecular Probes).

In vitro kinase assay

Kinase assay was performed as described previously (32).

Establishment of a cell-based high-throughput screening assay for the identification of small-molecule inhibitors of CC

To identify novel inhibitors of CC, we developed a cell-based screening assay that reports on the differential effects of small molecules on the viability of two isogenic cell populations with different centrosome content. Specifically, we engineered a human osteosarcoma cell line (U2OS) to conditionally overexpress EGFP-tagged PLK4 (EGFP-PLK4) from a tetracycline-inducible promoter. Under noninduced conditions, only 2% to 3% of EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells harbored aberrant centrosome numbers (i.e., >2 γ-tubulin signals), whereas 48 hours after induction, over 80% of cells exhibited CA, which remained stable for several days despite tetracycline withdrawal (Fig. 1A–C). Induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells were CC proficient, as 98.8 ± 0.7% of cells underwent bipolar cell division (n = 1,783). To test the suitability of EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells for viability-based high-throughput screening, we treated control and induced cells with increasing concentrations of griseofulvin, an inhibitor of CC (21), for 5 days and subsequently measured the viabilities of both cell populations using a luminescence reporter assay based on quantification of ATP. As expected, griseofulvin induced more cytotoxicity in EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with CA as compared with cells with normal centrosome content (Fig. 1D). Furthermore, live cell imaging demonstrated that treatment of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with 4 μmol/L griseofulvin (i.e., the concentration with the largest viability difference between control and induced cells) increased the rate of multipolar divisions by more than 5-fold in comparison with DMSO (Fig. 1E). More than 80% of the progeny of multipolar divisions underwent cell death, in comparison with only 17% of the progeny of bipolar divisions (Fig. 1F).

Figure 1.

Performance assessment of EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells for high-throughput small-molecule screening. A, schematic overview of the screening concept. Induced (+Tet) and noninduced (−Tet) EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells are exposed to small molecules. Induction of spindle multipolarity by CC inhibitors (CCI) will selectively impair survival of cells with CA. B, mean percentages ± SD of EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with more than two γ-tubulin signals. Tetracycline (Tet) was removed 48 hours after induction. C, noninduced cells (counts/sample ≥ 500, averaged from two independent experiments). C, representative images of noninduced (left) and induced (right) EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells. Cells were treated with vehicle (−Tet) or tetracycline (+Tet) for 48 hours and stained for γ-tubulin (red), CP110 (green), and DNA (blue) 96 hours postinduction. Scale bar, 10 μm. D, dose–response curves ± SD comparing relative viabilities of induced (+Tet) and noninduced (−Tet) EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after 5 days of exposure to griseofulvin (1–7 μmol/L; *, P < 0.02; **, P < 0.01; n = 3). E, time-lapse imaging over 48 hours showing average percentages of multipolar divisions in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after exposure to 4 µmol/L griseofuilvin (GF) from two independent experiments. F, fate of progeny resulting from bipolar and multipolar divisions of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after exposure to 4 μmol/L griseofulvin. Daughter cells were tracked by time-lapse microscopy for up to 48 hours.

Figure 1.

Performance assessment of EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells for high-throughput small-molecule screening. A, schematic overview of the screening concept. Induced (+Tet) and noninduced (−Tet) EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells are exposed to small molecules. Induction of spindle multipolarity by CC inhibitors (CCI) will selectively impair survival of cells with CA. B, mean percentages ± SD of EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with more than two γ-tubulin signals. Tetracycline (Tet) was removed 48 hours after induction. C, noninduced cells (counts/sample ≥ 500, averaged from two independent experiments). C, representative images of noninduced (left) and induced (right) EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells. Cells were treated with vehicle (−Tet) or tetracycline (+Tet) for 48 hours and stained for γ-tubulin (red), CP110 (green), and DNA (blue) 96 hours postinduction. Scale bar, 10 μm. D, dose–response curves ± SD comparing relative viabilities of induced (+Tet) and noninduced (−Tet) EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after 5 days of exposure to griseofulvin (1–7 μmol/L; *, P < 0.02; **, P < 0.01; n = 3). E, time-lapse imaging over 48 hours showing average percentages of multipolar divisions in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after exposure to 4 µmol/L griseofuilvin (GF) from two independent experiments. F, fate of progeny resulting from bipolar and multipolar divisions of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after exposure to 4 μmol/L griseofulvin. Daughter cells were tracked by time-lapse microscopy for up to 48 hours.

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Identification of CP-673451 and crenolanib as inhibitors of CC

To identify new cell-permeable molecules that target CC, we screened two small-molecule libraries consisting of 843 FDA-approved compounds and 273 kinase inhibitors (Fig. 2A). The FDA-approved library was screened at a concentration of 10 μmol/L, whereas the kinase inhibitor library was screened at three different concentrations (100 nmol/L, 1 μmol/L, and 10 μmol/L) because of the concentration-dependent target specificity of many kinase inhibitors. Hits were ordered according to their CC inhibition (CCI) index, calculated as ratio of viabilities between control and induced cells, and normalized to the viability ratio of vehicle-treated populations. Thus, a positive CCI index indicated that a small molecule compromised the viability of induced cells with CA over that of noninduced controls. For further evaluation, we chose the kinase inhibitors, CP-673451 and CP-868596 (crenolanib), because they exhibited the highest CCI index values and due to their structural homology (Fig. 2B and C; Supplementary Table S1). Both compounds are composed of aminopiperidine-, quinoline- and benzimidazole-ring systems and termed quinolinobenzimidazoles. Detailed dose–response viability analyses revealed that the presence of supernumerary centrosomes reduced IC50 values of CP-673451 and crenolanib from 1.6 to 0.6 μmol/L and 1.2 to 0.6 μmol/L, respectively (Fig. 2D).

Figure 2.

CP-673451 and crenolanib show selective lethality toward cells with CA. A, screening timeline. B, scatter plot showing the screening results of the 1 μmol/L kinase inhibitor library screen. Positive hits with a CCI index >0.3 and adjusted P < 0.05 are highlighted in black. CP-673451 and crenolanib scored the highest values. C, molecular structures of CP-673451 (1-(2-(5-(2-methoxyethoxy)-1H-benzo[d]imidazol-1-yl)quinolin-8-yl)piperidin-4-amine) and crenolanib (1-(2-(5-((3-methyloxetan-3-yl)methoxy)-1H-benzo[d]imidazol-1-yl)quinolin-8-yl)piperidin-4-amine). D, dose–response curves ± SD comparing relative viabilities of induced (+Tet) and noninduced (−Tet) EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after 5 days of exposure to increasing concentrations of CP-673451 and crenolanib (**, P < 0.01; ***, P < 0.001; n = 3).

Figure 2.

CP-673451 and crenolanib show selective lethality toward cells with CA. A, screening timeline. B, scatter plot showing the screening results of the 1 μmol/L kinase inhibitor library screen. Positive hits with a CCI index >0.3 and adjusted P < 0.05 are highlighted in black. CP-673451 and crenolanib scored the highest values. C, molecular structures of CP-673451 (1-(2-(5-(2-methoxyethoxy)-1H-benzo[d]imidazol-1-yl)quinolin-8-yl)piperidin-4-amine) and crenolanib (1-(2-(5-((3-methyloxetan-3-yl)methoxy)-1H-benzo[d]imidazol-1-yl)quinolin-8-yl)piperidin-4-amine). D, dose–response curves ± SD comparing relative viabilities of induced (+Tet) and noninduced (−Tet) EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after 5 days of exposure to increasing concentrations of CP-673451 and crenolanib (**, P < 0.01; ***, P < 0.001; n = 3).

Close modal

CP-673451 and crenolanib inhibit CC

Consistent with the increased cytotoxicity seen in cells with CA, live cell imaging demonstrated that CP-673451 and crenolanib increased the percentage of multipolar divisions of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells by approximately 3-fold at 1 μmol/L and 5-fold at 2 μmol/L (Fig. 3A). To test whether multipolar divisions were caused by centrosome declustering, we treated control and induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with increasing concentrations of both compounds and quantified the percentage of multipolar telophases, resulting in more than two daughter cells. As expected, both drugs increased the rate of multipolar telophases in a dose-dependent manner, reaching maxima of about 20% at 2 μmol/L. The percentage of multipolar telophases in control cells remained less than 2%, indicating that only cells carrying supernumerary centrosomes were prone to multipolar cell division (Fig. 3B and C). Importantly, virtually all multipolar telophases exhibited centrioles at each pole (100/101 for 1 μmol/L CP-673451, 91/91 for 1 μmol/L crenolanib), emphasizing the inhibition of CC by both compounds (Fig. 3D). Neither CP-673451 nor crenolanib caused centrosome amplification (Supplementary Fig. S1).

Figure 3.

CP-673451 and crenolanib inhibit CC in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells. A, average percentage of multipolar divisions ± SD of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells within the first 24 hours after exposure to DMSO, CP-673451 (CP), or crenolanib (Cre) by time-lapse imaging (n = 2). B, average percentages of multipolar telophases in control (−Tet) and induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells (+Tet) from two independent experiments, treated with increasing drug concentrations for 24 hours (counts/sample ≥ 200). C, representative images of normal bipolar (left), clustered bipolar (middle), and multipolar (right) metaphases and telophases in EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells stained for Eg5 (green), pericentrin (red), and DNA (blue). Scale bars, 10 μm. D, multipolar telophase of an induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cell treated with 1 μmol/L CP-673451 (24 hours) and stained for CP110 (green), γ-tubulin (red), and DNA (blue). Note that part of the green signal could be due to residual EGFP-PLK4. Scale bar, 10 μm. E, average percentage of multipolar telophases in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after PDGFR-β knockdown (72 hours) from two independent experiments (counts/sample ≥ 1,000). Immunoblot showing PDGFR-β depletion; α-tubulin indicates equal loading.

Figure 3.

CP-673451 and crenolanib inhibit CC in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells. A, average percentage of multipolar divisions ± SD of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells within the first 24 hours after exposure to DMSO, CP-673451 (CP), or crenolanib (Cre) by time-lapse imaging (n = 2). B, average percentages of multipolar telophases in control (−Tet) and induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells (+Tet) from two independent experiments, treated with increasing drug concentrations for 24 hours (counts/sample ≥ 200). C, representative images of normal bipolar (left), clustered bipolar (middle), and multipolar (right) metaphases and telophases in EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells stained for Eg5 (green), pericentrin (red), and DNA (blue). Scale bars, 10 μm. D, multipolar telophase of an induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cell treated with 1 μmol/L CP-673451 (24 hours) and stained for CP110 (green), γ-tubulin (red), and DNA (blue). Note that part of the green signal could be due to residual EGFP-PLK4. Scale bar, 10 μm. E, average percentage of multipolar telophases in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after PDGFR-β knockdown (72 hours) from two independent experiments (counts/sample ≥ 1,000). Immunoblot showing PDGFR-β depletion; α-tubulin indicates equal loading.

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Because a SAC-mediated mitotic delay is required for CC (13, 17), we addressed whether CP-673451 and crenolanib affect the timing of mitosis. Fluorescence time-lapse microscopy of dividing HeLa cells, stably expressing H2B-mCherry and α-tubulin-EGFP, revealed that at 1 μmol/L, crenolanib increased the duration of mitosis by about 2-fold, while CP-673451 did not delay mitosis. These effects were more prominent at 2 μmol/L, leading to 2- and 3-fold mitosis prolongation for CP-673451 and crenolanib, respectively (Supplementary Fig. S2). These data indicate that inhibition of CC was not caused by SAC inactivation.

Finally, we tested the effect of CP-673451 and crenolanib on CC in various cancer and nontransformed cell lines that harbor varying degrees of spontaneous CA as well as in 3Flag-STIL-HCT116, another cell line with inducible CA resulting from conditional STIL overexpression (Supplementary Table S2). Both compounds increased the rates of multipolar telophases by at least 2-fold in all cell lines with CA, including nonmalignant MCF10A cells, which harbor about 10% CA. As expected, no significant multipolarity was observed in BJ fibroblasts, which do not contain extra centrosomes. Taken together, these observations suggest that both compounds act as inhibitors of CC in all cell lines tested and thereby preferentially affect cells that carry supernumerary centrosomes.

Depletion of PDGFR-β has no effect on CC

CP-673451 and crenolanib are potent inhibitors of platelet-derived growth factor receptor β (PDGFR-β; refs. 33, 34). Because both molecules share PDGFR-β as their main target, we next sought to analyze the effects of RNAi-mediated PDGFR-β depletion on CC. Surprisingly, downregulation of PDGFR-β did not increase the percentage of multipolar divisions in EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with CA (Fig. 3E), indicating that inhibition of CC caused by both quinolinobenzimidazoles was not mediated by impaired PDGFR-β signaling.

CP-673451 and crenolanib affect the organization of the actin cytoskeleton

U2OS cells treated with 1 to 4 μmol/L CP-673451 or crenolanib showed a ruffled cell surface as a sign for alterations of the cortical actin cytoskeleton. Phalloidin-FITC staining of the actin cytoskeleton revealed that both compounds markedly affect the morphology of stress fibers and overall actin organization (Fig. 4A). Drug concentrations (1 μmol/L) led to the appearance of bundled actin networks instead of characteristic stress fibers. Strikingly, treatment of U2OS cells with 4 μmol/L of both drugs led to a complete disorganization of stress fibers and the appearance of aberrant F-actin arrangements. Similar results were obtained in other cell lines, including MDA-MB-231, LOVO, and HCT116 (data not shown).

Figure 4.

CP-673451 and crenolanib disturb actin organization associated with cofilin activation both in interphase and mitotic cells. A, representative images of compound-induced disorganization of the actin network in phalloidin-TRITC–stained U2OS cells after compound addition (3 hours). *, magnified view of a rectangular inset. Scale bar, 20 μm. B, immunoblot showing a decrease of phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels in unsynchronized U2OS cells after exposure to CP-673451 or crenolanib (3 hours), in comparison with DMSO. C, CP-673451 decreases phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels in both interphase (I) and mitotic (M) cells. U2OS cells were synchronized with nocodazole in the presence of 1 μmol/L CP-673451 (CP) or DMSO (D). Phospho-Thr927-Eg5 positivity characterizes the mitotic fraction. *, longer exposure.

Figure 4.

CP-673451 and crenolanib disturb actin organization associated with cofilin activation both in interphase and mitotic cells. A, representative images of compound-induced disorganization of the actin network in phalloidin-TRITC–stained U2OS cells after compound addition (3 hours). *, magnified view of a rectangular inset. Scale bar, 20 μm. B, immunoblot showing a decrease of phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels in unsynchronized U2OS cells after exposure to CP-673451 or crenolanib (3 hours), in comparison with DMSO. C, CP-673451 decreases phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels in both interphase (I) and mitotic (M) cells. U2OS cells were synchronized with nocodazole in the presence of 1 μmol/L CP-673451 (CP) or DMSO (D). Phospho-Thr927-Eg5 positivity characterizes the mitotic fraction. *, longer exposure.

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CP-673451 and crenolanib activate cofilin

The observed rearrangements of the actin cytoskeleton indicated that the compounds might affect the regulation of actin dynamics. Rapid actin remodeling in response to extracellular stimuli is elicited by the activation of cofilin, which is regulated by an inhibitory Ser3 phosphorylation (35, 36). To analyze changes in cofilin activity, we treated unsynchronized U2OS cells with increasing quinolinobenzimidazole concentrations and assessed the levels of phosphorylated (inactive) cofilin using an antibody against phospho-Ser3-cofilin. Both compounds induced a concentration-dependent reduction of phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels, whereas overall cofilin levels remained unchanged in both noninduced (Fig. 4B) and induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells carrying CA (data not shown). In addition, we treated several other cancer cell lines with increasing concentrations of CP-673451. Immunoblot analysis of phospho-Ser3-cofilin clearly showed that cofilin was activated in a dose-dependent manner in all cell lines examined (Supplementary Fig. S3). Next, we analyzed whether cofilin becomes activated in drug-exposed mitotic cells as well. Mitotic U2OS cells arrested in metaphase by nocodazole in the presence of CP-673451 were separated from interphase cells by intensive shaking. As expected, the levels of phospho-Ser3-cofilin were reduced in both CP-673451–treated interphase and mitotic cells as compared with controls (Fig. 4C).

Accumulation of active cofilin during mitosis inhibits CC

A previous study has shown that the accumulation of active cofilin during mitosis strongly affects the orientation of the mitotic spindle in HeLa cells due to decreased stability of the cortical actin meshwork (37). Accordingly, time-lapse fluorescence microscopy analysis of spindle dynamics in HeLa cells stably expressing H2B-mCherry and α-tubulin-EGFP revealed that CP-673451 markedly affected spindle orientation and caused spindle oscillation. Specifically, treatment with 2 μmol/L CP-673451 increased the average spindle rotation from 23 degrees to 59 degrees and the average oscillation distance from 7 to 17 μm (Fig. 5A; Supplementary Movies S1–S3).

Figure 5.

Cofilin activation inhibits CC. A, spindle rotation (left, angle variation between initial metaphase plate and anaphase) and oscillation (right, cumulative travel distance of the metaphase plate center) induced by 2 μmol/L CP-673451 as quantified by fluorescence time-lapse imaging of H2B-mCherry-α-tubulin-EGFP-HeLa cells. Bars, averages. Cells were synchronized in G1–S-phase (thymidine, 18 hours), drug or DMSO were added 3 hours after release, and imaging started 6 hours after release (nangle = 100; nmovement = 70; ****, P < 0.0001). B and C, average percentages ± SD of multipolar divisions from two independent experiments in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after exposure to the indicated concentrations of LIMKi3 (B) or damnacanthal (C), determined by time-lapse microscopy over the first 24 hours after drug addition. Immunoblots showing the respective phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels are shown in the corresponding Supplementary Fig. S4A and S4B. D, average percentages of multipolar divisions in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells, transiently transfected with the indicated constructs, determined by time-lapse microscopy over the first 12 hours after transfection (*, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01; n = 5; Supplementary Fig. S5A and S5B).

Figure 5.

Cofilin activation inhibits CC. A, spindle rotation (left, angle variation between initial metaphase plate and anaphase) and oscillation (right, cumulative travel distance of the metaphase plate center) induced by 2 μmol/L CP-673451 as quantified by fluorescence time-lapse imaging of H2B-mCherry-α-tubulin-EGFP-HeLa cells. Bars, averages. Cells were synchronized in G1–S-phase (thymidine, 18 hours), drug or DMSO were added 3 hours after release, and imaging started 6 hours after release (nangle = 100; nmovement = 70; ****, P < 0.0001). B and C, average percentages ± SD of multipolar divisions from two independent experiments in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after exposure to the indicated concentrations of LIMKi3 (B) or damnacanthal (C), determined by time-lapse microscopy over the first 24 hours after drug addition. Immunoblots showing the respective phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels are shown in the corresponding Supplementary Fig. S4A and S4B. D, average percentages of multipolar divisions in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells, transiently transfected with the indicated constructs, determined by time-lapse microscopy over the first 12 hours after transfection (*, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01; n = 5; Supplementary Fig. S5A and S5B).

Close modal

Because CP-673451 and crenolanib led to cofilin activation and inhibition of CC, we next addressed whether increased cofilin activity causes CC inhibition. We increased the levels of active cofilin in dividing EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with CA by (i) inhibition of cofilin phosphorylation and (ii) increasing overall cofilin levels. To inhibit cofilin phosphorylation, we suppressed the activity of LIM kinases (LIMK) using two highly selective, cell-permeable LIMK inhibitors, LIMKi3 (38) and damnacanthal (32). Time-lapse microscopy analysis of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells after exposure to LIMKi3 or damnacanthal revealed a concentration-dependent increase of multipolar divisions (Fig. 5B and C), suggesting that cofilin activation disturbs CC. Next, we examined the effect of cofilin overexpression on inhibition of CC by transiently transfecting induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with wild-type cofilin (Cof-WT), non-phosphorylatable cofilin (Cof-S3A), or cofilin containing a phosphomimetic mutation (Cof-S3E). To increase the number of mitotic events, cells were synchronized in G1–S-phase by a single thymidine block and released before transfection. Time-lapse microscopy revealed that overexpression of wild-type and constitutively active but not inactive cofilin significantly increased the frequency of multipolar divisions in comparison with cells transfected with empty vector (Fig. 5D). These results demonstrate that increased amounts of active cofilin in U2OS cells with amplified centrosomes perturb CC.

CP-673451- and crenolanib-induced cofilin activation is mediated by SSHs

The putative mechanisms of cofilin activation upon treatment with CP-673451 or crenolanib include drug-induced inhibition of LIMK and/or the activation of SSHs (35). Because insufficient activity of LIMK leads to the accumulation of active cofilin (39, 40), we first analyzed the phosphorylation status of LIMK1 and LIMK2 in U2OS cells after exposure to increasing concentrations of CP-673451 or crenolanib. Immunoblot analysis using a phospho-LIMK1/2 antibody revealed that the levels of phosphorylated LIMK did not decrease, suggesting that both compounds do not inhibit kinase activity. In fact, LIMK phosphorylation appeared to increase after compound addition both in interphase (Fig. 6A) and mitotic cells (Fig. 4C). To exclude direct inhibition of LIMK, independent from its phosphorylation status, LIMK1 expressed in kidney HEK293T cells was immunoprecipitated and subjected to an in vitro kinase assay in the presence of CP-673451, using His6-cofilin as a substrate. Autoradiography of incorporated 32P revealed that exposure to CP-673451 had no effect on LIMK1 activity (Fig. 6B), indicating that impaired kinase activity is not responsible for the decrease in cofilin phosphorylation.

Figure 6.

CP-673451- and crenolanib-induced cofilin activation is mediated by SSH1 and SSH2. A, analysis of LIMK1/LIMK2 phosphorylation (Thr508/Thr505) in U2OS cells exposed to indicated drug concentrations or DMSO for 3 hours. B, LIMK1 kinase activity assay. Ectopically expressed Myc-hLIMK1 was immunoprecipitated from HEK293T cells and kinase activity was analyzed in vitro, by comparing the amounts of incorporated 32P into His6-cofilin. CP-673451 was added to the assay buffer at the indicated concentrations. LIMK1-D460A–inactive mutant (DA) and damnacanthal were used as controls. Whole-cell lysates show overexpression of Myc-hLIMK1 variants. C, phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels in U2OS cells transiently transfected with empty vector (GFP) or GFP-SSH1L (24 hours) and treated with DMSO (D), 2 μmol/L CP-673451 (CP), or crenolanib (Cre; 3 hours). D, partial rescue of drug-induced cofilin activation by knockdown of SSH1 and SSH2. U2OS cells were transfected with RNAi pools against SSH1, SSH2, SSH3, or control (72 hours) and exposed to 2 μmol/L compound (3 hours). Silencing was validated by qPCR (Supplementary Fig. S6) and for SSH1L by immunoblotting as well (top). Relative levels of phospho-Ser3-cofilin are indicated for each sample. E, average percentages ± SD of multipolar divisions in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells, depleted for the indicated SSH isoform (72 hours) and treated with DMSO or 1 μmol/L compound. Quantification was done by time-lapse microscopy during the first 24 hours after drug addition (*, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01; ***, P = 0.001; ****, P < 0.001).

Figure 6.

CP-673451- and crenolanib-induced cofilin activation is mediated by SSH1 and SSH2. A, analysis of LIMK1/LIMK2 phosphorylation (Thr508/Thr505) in U2OS cells exposed to indicated drug concentrations or DMSO for 3 hours. B, LIMK1 kinase activity assay. Ectopically expressed Myc-hLIMK1 was immunoprecipitated from HEK293T cells and kinase activity was analyzed in vitro, by comparing the amounts of incorporated 32P into His6-cofilin. CP-673451 was added to the assay buffer at the indicated concentrations. LIMK1-D460A–inactive mutant (DA) and damnacanthal were used as controls. Whole-cell lysates show overexpression of Myc-hLIMK1 variants. C, phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels in U2OS cells transiently transfected with empty vector (GFP) or GFP-SSH1L (24 hours) and treated with DMSO (D), 2 μmol/L CP-673451 (CP), or crenolanib (Cre; 3 hours). D, partial rescue of drug-induced cofilin activation by knockdown of SSH1 and SSH2. U2OS cells were transfected with RNAi pools against SSH1, SSH2, SSH3, or control (72 hours) and exposed to 2 μmol/L compound (3 hours). Silencing was validated by qPCR (Supplementary Fig. S6) and for SSH1L by immunoblotting as well (top). Relative levels of phospho-Ser3-cofilin are indicated for each sample. E, average percentages ± SD of multipolar divisions in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells, depleted for the indicated SSH isoform (72 hours) and treated with DMSO or 1 μmol/L compound. Quantification was done by time-lapse microscopy during the first 24 hours after drug addition (*, P < 0.05; **, P < 0.01; ***, P = 0.001; ****, P < 0.001).

Close modal

In contrast, cofilin activation might be triggered by increased SSH activity. Indeed, we observed that transient overexpression of GFP-tagged SSH1 in U2OS cells decreased phospho-cofilin to similar levels as exposure to CP-673451 or crenolanib (Fig. 6C). To examine the involvement of SSH in drug-induced cofilin activation, we depleted SSH isoforms 1, 2, or 3 from U2OS cells and monitored cofilin activation after exposure to both quinolinobenzimidazoles. RNAi-mediated depletion of SSH1 and SSH2 partially rescued drug-induced inhibition of cofilin phosphorylation (Fig. 6D). Importantly, SSH2 depletion had the most pronounced effect, while knockdown of SSH3 failed to rescue cofilin activation. Next, we investigated whether SSH depletion can also rescue drug-induced CC inhibition. We depleted each SSH isoform in induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with CA and assessed CC by time-lapse microscopy during the first day following addition of the compounds. Despite relatively low knockdown efficiencies (Supplementary Fig. S6), silencing of SSH1 and SSH2 partially rescued induction of multipolar cell divisions by both drugs (Fig. 6E). Again, SSH2 knockdown had the strongest effect and decreased the percentage of multipolar divisions induced by CP-673451 and crenolanib by 35% and 43%, respectively, whereas depletion of SSH3 had no effect. These results correlate with cofilin activation observed in U2OS cells under similar conditions (Fig. 6D), emphasizing the negative effect of cofilin activation on CC. It can be concluded that CP-673451 and crenolanib-induced cofilin activation is mediated by slingshot phosphatases 1 and 2.

CP-673451 and crenolanib activate PI3K/Akt and MEK/ERK signaling under physiologic conditions

Earlier studies have demonstrated that isoforms of PI3K play an important role in mediating extracellular signals leading to the activation of SSH1 and SSH2, resulting in cofilin activation and actin cytoskeleton rearrangement (41, 42). As direct SSH activation by CP-673451 was not observed (Supplementary Fig. S7), we next examined whether PI3K signaling is required for CP-673451–induced cofilin activation by SSHs. We preincubated U2OS cells with the PI3Kα inhibitor BYL719 before the addition of CP-673451. Immunoblot analysis showed that cofilin phosphorylation was partially rescued by BYL719 (Fig. 7A). Similar results were obtained by preincubating cells with the pan-PI3K inhibitor wortmannin, but not the PI3Kδ-specific inhibitor CAL-101 (data not shown). Importantly, pretreatment of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with BYL719 also partially rescued CP-673451–induced multipolar divisions in time-lapse microscopy experiments (Fig. 7B). These results suggest that SSH-mediated cofilin activation by quinolinobenzimidazoles may be mediated by PI3K. However, both compounds are known to potently inhibit PDGFR-β, and several studies have demonstrated their inhibitory effects on PDGFR-β downstream signaling (33, 34, 43, 44). To assess the effects of selective PDGFR-β inhibition on cofilin activation, we depleted PDGFR-β by RNAi and found levels of phospho-cofilin to be unaltered (Fig. 7C). In addition to our finding that PDGFR-β depletion had no effect on CC (Fig. 3E), we conclude that CP-673451- and crenolanib-induced cofilin activation is independent of PDGFR-β.

Figure 7.

CP-673451 and crenolanib stimulate Akt and MEK signaling under physiologic conditions. A, immunoblot analysis of phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels in U2OS cells pretreated with BYL719 for 2 hours, followed by addition of 2 μmol/L CP-673451 (CP) or DMSO (D) for 3 hours. Phospho-Ser473-Akt levels indicate PI3K inhibition. MCM7 shows equal loading. B, average percentage ± SD of multipolar cell divisions of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells, pretreated with BYL719 (2 hours) and exposed to 1 μmol/L CP-673451 in the continuous presence of BYL719. Quantification was done by time-lapse microscopy during the first 24 hours after the addition of CP-673451 (***, P < 0.001; n = 3). C, immunoblot showing the effects of RNAi-mediated PDGFR-β silencing (72 hours) in U2OS cells on phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels. Akt and MEK phosphorylation was detected using phospho-Ser473-Akt and phospho-Ser217/221-MEK1/2 antibodies. D, immunoblot comparing downstream MEK1/2-Ser217/221-, Akt-Ser473-, and cofilin-Ser3-phosphorylation between PDGF-BB–stimulated and nonstimulated U2OS cells in the presence or absence of compounds. Starved U2OS cells were preincubated with DMSO (D), 2 μmol/L CP-673451 (CP), or crenolanib (Cre) for 2 hours before PDGF-BB addition.

Figure 7.

CP-673451 and crenolanib stimulate Akt and MEK signaling under physiologic conditions. A, immunoblot analysis of phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels in U2OS cells pretreated with BYL719 for 2 hours, followed by addition of 2 μmol/L CP-673451 (CP) or DMSO (D) for 3 hours. Phospho-Ser473-Akt levels indicate PI3K inhibition. MCM7 shows equal loading. B, average percentage ± SD of multipolar cell divisions of induced EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells, pretreated with BYL719 (2 hours) and exposed to 1 μmol/L CP-673451 in the continuous presence of BYL719. Quantification was done by time-lapse microscopy during the first 24 hours after the addition of CP-673451 (***, P < 0.001; n = 3). C, immunoblot showing the effects of RNAi-mediated PDGFR-β silencing (72 hours) in U2OS cells on phospho-Ser3-cofilin levels. Akt and MEK phosphorylation was detected using phospho-Ser473-Akt and phospho-Ser217/221-MEK1/2 antibodies. D, immunoblot comparing downstream MEK1/2-Ser217/221-, Akt-Ser473-, and cofilin-Ser3-phosphorylation between PDGF-BB–stimulated and nonstimulated U2OS cells in the presence or absence of compounds. Starved U2OS cells were preincubated with DMSO (D), 2 μmol/L CP-673451 (CP), or crenolanib (Cre) for 2 hours before PDGF-BB addition.

Close modal

To gain further insights into signaling alterations caused by both quinolinobenzimidazoles, we next analyzed the impact of these compounds on Akt and MEK, the main signaling branches downstream of several RTKs, in different cancer cell lines. Under normal growth conditions, CP-673451 unexpectedly elevated the levels of phospho-Akt and phospho-MEK in almost all cell lines within 3 hours of exposure (Supplementary Fig. S8A). Although Akt phosphorylation was not increased in U2OS cells at that time point, CP-673451 treatment led to a significant increase in phospho-Akt levels at 24 hours in a dose-dependent manner (Supplementary Fig. S8B). In conclusion, both compounds stimulate Akt and MEK in cultured cells.

Because crenolanib acts as a type I tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) and binds preferentially to phosphorylated RTKs (45, 46), we reasoned that CP-673451 and crenolanib would inhibit RTK signaling only when receptors are in their active conformation. To validate this hypothesis, we assessed Akt and MEK phosphorylation (as indicators of PDGFR-β downstream signaling) in PDGF-BB–stimulated and nonstimulated U2OS cells pretreated with either CP-673451 or crenolanib. As expected, stimulation of PDGFR-β strongly enhanced Akt and MEK phosphorylation and activated cofilin (Fig. 7D). Preincubation with CP-563451 and crenolanib attenuated PDGFR-BB–induced Akt and MEK activation, demonstrating their inhibitory role on PDGFR-β signaling. In contrast, exposure of nonstimulated, serum-starved U2OS cells to CP-673451 or crenolanib increased Akt and MEK phosphorylation. This confirms that the inhibitory capability of both molecules depends on the RTK activation state. Finally, we tested whether PDGFR-β was required for drug-induced activation of downstream signaling in nonstimulated cells. Exposure of PDGFR-β–depleted U2OS cells to CP-673451 and crenolanib still resulted in Akt and MEK phosphorylation (Supplementary Fig. S8C), indicating that other kinases are involved in this signaling.

Because CC is regarded as a promising target for cancer treatment, several studies have focused on the characterization of this mechanism, the discovery of new druggable target proteins, and the identification of small-molecule inhibitors. To date, most cell-based assays have utilized high-content microscopic imaging (13, 14, 21, 47). However, these screens delivered little information on direct cellular cytotoxicity and thus therapeutic potential because their readouts were confined to metaphase multipolarity induction. In this study, we employed a screening concept to identify small-molecule inhibitors of CC based on differential viabilities of induced versus noninduced isogenic EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells. High levels of CA and robust CC in these cells allowed for the identification of small molecules, which selectively interfere with the mechanisms of CC.

With this screening approach, we identified CP-673451 and crenolanib (CP-868596), two molecules with similar chemical structures and proven antitumor activity, as inhibitors of CC. At clinically relevant concentrations (48), both compounds effectively induced multipolar cell divisions and consequent cell death in EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with CA as well as in a variety of cancer cell lines harboring different degrees of spontaneous CA. Importantly, drug-induced multipolarity was restricted to cells with supernumerary centrosomes and did not lead to the formation of acentrosomal spindle poles as seen with the other inhibitors of CC (21–23, 47).

Previous studies have shown that CC is inhibited upon interference with spindle pole integrity, microtubule–kinetochore attachment, SAC activation, or cortical actin cytoskeleton (13, 14, 17). The absence of acentriolar spindle poles in cells treated with CP-673451 and crenolanib suggests that spindle pole integrity is not affected by these compounds. As both CP-673451 and crenolanib prolonged the average duration of mitosis but did not induce mitotic arrest, SAC inactivation and interference with microtubule–kinetochore attachment is unlikely.

We show here that CP-673451 and crenolanib affect the organization of cortical actin filaments by the activation of cofilin. Cofilin is one of the key regulators of actin remodeling in response to external stimuli; it promotes severing and dissociation of F-actin filaments and increases the cellular pool of G-actin for new filament growth (36). Cofilin activity is negatively regulated by Ser3 phosphorylation, mediated by LIM-domain kinases (LIMK1 and LIMK2) and related testicular kinases TESK1 and TESK2. Cofilin dephosphorylation is mainly regulated by slingshot phosphatases SSH1, SSH2, and SSH3 (35).

We demonstrate that cofilin activation in EGFP-PLK4-U2OS cells with CA inhibits CC. A previous study showed that elevated levels of active cofilin strongly affect spindle orientation and positioning in dividing HeLa cells with regular centrosome content (37). We observed similar effects upon exposure of HeLa cells to CP-673451 and crenolanib. In cells with extra centrosomes, normal actin and actin-based contractility has been shown to promote bipolar spindle assembly and suppress spindle multipolarity (13). In accordance with our results, an independent study identified LIMK2 and TESK1 as important regulators of CC (15).

Our results indicate that CP-673451 and crenolanib stimulate phosphatase activity of SSH1 and SSH2 to decrease cofilin phosphorylation. SSH1 and SSH2 are known to be activated by external factors that involve production of PI(3,4,5)P3 (41, 42). Accordingly, we found PI3K inhibition by BYL719 or wortmannin to partially rescue CP-673451/crenolanib-induced cofilin activation, suggesting that both drugs activate cofilin, at least in part, through PI3Kα stimulation.

It is important to note that CP-673451 has been described to be a highly selective ATP-competitive inhibitor of PDGFR-β (33). Similarly, crenolanib is a potent TKI with strongest affinity for PDGF-α and -β receptors and FLT3 (34). Stimulation of several different RTKs and G protein–coupled receptors, for example, insulin receptor, formyl peptide receptor 1, and PDGFR-β, promotes cofilin activity via activation of SSH1/2 to generate rapid turnover of actin filaments in different cell types (42, 49–51). Accordingly, although PDGFR-β depletion did not affect cofilin regulation, we corroborate that stimulation of U2OS cells with PDGF-BB decreases overall cofilin phosphorylation. As CP-673451 and crenolanib stimulated cofilin activation in all tested cell lines in a concentration-dependent manner, we conclude that this effect is not mediated by RTK/PDGFR-β inhibition.

Our data suggest that the downstream inhibitory effect of these compounds is dependent on the activation state of PDGFR-β. Although CP-673451 and crenolanib attenuated PDGF-BB–induced Akt and MEK activation, in the absence PDGF-BB stimulation, they enhanced downstream Akt and MEK pathway signaling in almost all cell lines tested. These observations may be explained by the fact that crenolanib behaves as a type I TKI and therefore preferentially binds to RTKs in their active conformation (45). Its affinity toward active FLT3 is more than 10-fold higher than toward inactive FLT3, and for ABL1, phosphorylation increases drug affinity by 7-fold (46). To the best of our knowledge, no data concerning this matter are available for CP-673451.

In summary, we present a novel high-throughput screening concept for the identification of small molecules that inhibit CC. By applying this strategy, we have identified CP-673451 and crenolanib as inhibitors of CC with increased cytotoxicity for cells with CA. Both compounds induce multipolar cell division and subsequent cell death by cofilin-mediated disruption of the cortical actin cytoskeleton, reemphasizing the importance of cortical actin for CC.

No potential conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Conception and design: G. Konotop, A. Krämer, M.S. Raab

Development of methodology: G. Konotop, M. Boutros, A. Krämer, M.S. Raab

Acquisition of data (provided animals, acquired and managed patients, provided facilities, etc.): G. Konotop, E. Bausch, T. Nagai, A. Turchinovich, K. Mizuno, A. Krämer

Analysis and interpretation of data (e.g., statistical analysis, biostatistics, computational analysis): G. Konotop, E. Bausch, N. Becker, A. Benner, K. Mizuno, A. Krämer, M.S. Raab

Writing, review, and/or revision of the manuscript: G. Konotop, N. Becker, A. Benner, A. Krämer, M.S. Raab

Administrative, technical, or material support (i.e., reporting or organizing data, constructing databases): A. Krämer

Study supervision: A. Krämer, M.S. Raab

We thank Barbara Schmitt and Thilo Miersch for excellent technical assistance and advice during the small-molecule screen. We acknowledge Bianca Kraft for the 3Flag-STIL-HCT116 cells and Marion Schmidt-Zachmann for the NO66 antibody.

This study was supported by the Max-Eder program of the German Cancer Aid (Deutsche Krebshilfe; awarded to M.S. Raab) and a German Research Foundation (DFG) grant (KR 1981/4-1 to A. Krämer).

The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. This article must therefore be hereby marked advertisement in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

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Supplementary data