Pediatric sarcomas represent a heterogeneous group of malignancies that exhibit variable response to DNA-damaging chemotherapy. Schlafen family member 11 protein (SLFN11) increases sensitivity to replicative stress and has been implicated as a potential biomarker to predict sensitivity to DNA-damaging agents (DDA). SLFN11 expression was quantified in 220 children with solid tumors using IHC. Sensitivity to the PARP inhibitor talazoparib (TAL) and the topoisomerase I inhibitor irinotecan (IRN) was assessed in sarcoma cell lines, including SLFN11 knock-out (KO) and overexpression models, and a patient-derived orthotopic xenograft model (PDOX). SLFN11 was expressed in 69% of pediatric sarcoma sampled, including 90% and 100% of Ewing sarcoma and desmoplastic small round-cell tumors, respectively, although the magnitude of expression varied widely. In sarcoma cell lines, protein expression strongly correlated with response to TAL and IRN, with SLFN11 KO resulting in significant loss of sensitivity in vitro and in vivo. Surprisingly, retrospective analysis of children with sarcoma found no association between SLFN11 levels and favorable outcome. Subsequently, high SLFN11 expression was confirmed in a PDOX model derived from a patient with recurrent Ewing sarcoma who failed to respond to treatment with TAL + IRN. Selective inhibition of BCL-xL increased sensitivity to TAL + IRN in SLFN11-positive resistant tumor cells. Although SLFN11 appears to drive sensitivity to replicative stress in pediatric sarcomas, its potential to act as a biomarker may be limited to certain tumor backgrounds or contexts. Impaired apoptotic response may be one mechanism of resistance to DDA-induced replicative stress.

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