Gemcitabine-based chemotherapy regimens are first-line for several advanced cancers. Because of better tolerability, gemcitabine + cisplatin is a preferred neoadjuvant, adjuvant, and/or palliative chemotherapy regimen for advanced bladder cancer. Nevertheless, predicting treatment failure and overcoming resistance remain unmet clinical needs. We discovered that splice variant (V1) of HYAL-4 is a first-in-class eukaryotic chondroitinase (Chase), and CD44 is its major substrate. V1 is upregulated in bladder cancer and drives a malignant phenotype. In this study, we investigated whether V1 drives chemotherapy resistance.
V1 expression was measured in muscle-invasive bladder cancer (MIBC) specimens by qRT-PCR and IHC. HYAL-4 wild-type (Wt) and V1 were stably expressed or silenced in normal urothelial and three bladder cancer cell lines. Transfectants were analyzed for chemoresistance and associated mechanism in preclinical models.
V1 levels in MIBC specimens of patients who developed metastasis, predicted response to gemcitabine + cisplatin adjuvant/salvage treatment and disease-specific mortality. V1-expressing bladder cells were resistant to gemcitabine but not to cisplatin. V1 expression neither affected gemcitabine influx nor the drug-efflux transporters. Instead, V1 increased gemcitabine metabolism and subsequent efflux of difluorodeoxyuridine, by upregulating cytidine deaminase (CDA) expression through increased CD44–JAK2/STAT3 signaling. CDA inhibitor tetrahydrouridine resensitized V1-expressing cells to gemcitabine. While gemcitabine (25–50 mg/kg) inhibited bladder cancer xenograft growth, V1-expressing tumors were resistant. Low-dose combination of gemcitabine and tetrahydrouridine abrogated the growth of V1 tumors with minimal toxicity.
V1/Chase drives gemcitabine resistance and potentially predicts gemcitabine + cisplatin failure. CDA inhibition resensitizes V1-expressing tumors to gemcitabine. Because several chemotherapy regimens include gemcitabine, our study could have broad significance.