High-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC) is the deadliest ovarian cancer histotype due in-part to the lack of therapeutic options for chemotherapy-resistant disease. PARP inhibitors (PARPi) represent a targeted treatment. However, PARPi resistance is becoming a significant clinical challenge. There is an urgent need to overcome resistance mechanisms to extend disease-free intervals. We established isogeneic PARPi-sensitive and -resistant HGSOC cell lines. In three PARPi-resistant models, there is a significant increase in AP-1 transcriptional activity and DNA repair capacity. Using RNA-sequencing and an shRNA screen, we identified activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6) as a mediator of AP-1 activity, DNA damage response, and PARPi resistance. In publicly available datasets, ATF6 expression is elevated in HGSOC and portends a poorer recurrence-free survival. In a cohort of primary HGSOC tumors, higher ATF6 expression significantly correlated to PARPi resistance. In PARPi-resistant cell lines and a PDX model, inhibition of a known ATF6 regulator, p38, attenuated AP-1 activity and RAD51 foci formation, enhanced DNA damage, significantly inhibited tumor burden, and reduced accumulation of nuclear ATF6.
This study highlights that a novel p38-ATF6-mediated AP-1 signaling axis contributes to PARPi resistance and provides a clinical rationale for combining PARPi and AP-1 signaling inhibitors.