Cancer cells experience acute stress conditions due to their increased proliferation rate and synthesis of misfolded proteins. However, by modulating the mechanisms that control protein-folding, cancer cells avoid cell death. Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that molecular chaperones, like Hsp70, are upregulated in cancer cells compared to their normal counterparts. These data suggest that these chaperones are potential targets for cancer therapy. Previous work in our lab demonstrated the dependence of patient-driven rhabdomyosarcoma cell survival on cytoplasmic Hsp70 activity, thanks to the use of a specific Hsp70 inhibitor, MAL3-101. In particular, we discovered that treatment of on RMS13 cell line with an Hsp70 inhibitor, known as MAL3-101, activates the PERK driven unfolded protein response that results in CHOP-dependent cell death (Sabinis et al., 2016). Nevertheless, the mechanism underlying how Hsp70 inhibition triggered apoptosis was poorly understood. By taking advantage of a MAL3-101-resistant cell line (RMS13-R), we have now determined which compensatory mechanism alters MAL3-101-driven cell death. We found that both endoplasmic reticulum-associated degradation (ERAD) and autophagy are upregulated in RMS13-R cells, underlying the increased demand on two protein degradation pathways upon inhibition of Hsp70. Specifically, autophagy related genes were upregulated, and increased conversion of LC3BI to LC3BII and accumulation of LC3BII was detected in RMS13-R cells. Further experiments demonstrated that autophagy was further induced by MAL3-101 treatment in RMS13-R cells, as evidenced by an increase in the messages and proteins corresponding to key autophagy components. Finally, we discovered that only autophagy inhibition—but not inhibition of ERAD—re-sensitized RMS13-R cells to Hsp70 inhibition, which was apparent from an induction of apoptotic markers and cell death. These data highlight a pro-survival role for autophagy induction upon exposure to an Hsp70 inhibitor in cancer, and provide a link between Hsp70, proteasomal degradation, the unfolded protein response, and autophagy in rhabdomyosarcoma.

Citation Format: Sara Sannino, Christopher J. Guerriero, Amit J. Sabnis, Trever G. Bivona, Jeffrey L. Brodsky. Protein homeostasis adaptation to Hsp70 inhibition in cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2018; 2018 Apr 14-18; Chicago, IL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2018;78(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 2325.