High-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC) is a highly aggressive and lethal subtype of ovarian cancer. While most patients initially respond to standard-of-care treatment, the majority will eventually relapse and succumb to their disease. Despite significant advances in our understanding of this disease, the mechanisms that govern the distinctions between HGSOC with good and poor prognosis remain unclear. In this study, we implemented a proteogenomic approach to analyze gene expression, proteomic and phosphoproteomic profiles of HGSOC tumor samples to identify molecular pathways that distinguish HGSOC tumors relative to clinical outcome. Our analyses identify significant upregulation of hematopoietic cell kinase (HCK) expression and signaling in poor prognostic HGSOC patient samples. Analyses of independent gene expression datasets and IHC of patient samples confirmed increased HCK signaling in tumors relative to normal fallopian or ovarian samples and demonstrated aberrant expression in tumor epithelial cells. Consistent with the association between HCK expression and tumor aggressiveness in patient samples, in vitro phenotypic studies showed that HCK can, in part, promote cell proliferation, colony formation, and invasive capacity of cell lines. Mechanistically, HCK mediates these phenotypes, partly through CD44 and NOTCH3-dependent signaling, and inhibiting CD44 or NOTCH3 activity, either genetically or through gamma-secretase inhibitors, can revert HCK-driven phenotypes.
Collectively, these studies establish that HCK acts as an oncogenic driver of HGSOC through aberrant activation of CD44 and NOTCH3 signaling and identifies this network as a potential therapeutic opportunity in a subset of patients with aggressive and recurrent HGSOC.