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Targeting the mevalonate pathway suppresses VHL-deficient CC-RCC through a HIF-dependent mechanism

Abstract

Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (CC-RCC) is a devastating disease with limited therapeutic options available for advanced stages. The objective of this study was to investigate HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, also known as statins, as potential therapeutics for CC-RCC. Importantly, treatment with statins was found to be synthetically lethal with the loss of the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) tumor suppressor gene, which occurs in 90% of CC-RCC driving the disease. This effect has been confirmed in three different CC-RCC cell lines with three different lipophilic statins. Inhibition of mevalonate synthesis by statins causes a profound cytostatic effect at nanomolar concentrations and becomes cytotoxic at low micromolar concentrations in VHL-deficient CC-RCC. The synthetic lethal effect can be fully rescued by both mevalonate and geranylgeranylpyrophosphate, but not by squalene, indicating that the effect is due to disruption of small GTPase isoprenylation and not the inhibition of cholesterol synthesis. Inhibition of Rho and Rho kinase (ROCK) signaling contributes to the synthetic lethality effect, and overactivation of hypoxia-inducible factor signaling resulting from VHL loss is required. Finally, statin treatment is able to inhibit both tumor initiation and progression of subcutaneous 786-OT1-based CC-RCC tumors in mice. Thus, statins represent potential therapeutics for the treatment of VHL-deficient CC-RCC. Mol Cancer Ther; 17(8); 1781-92. ©2018 AACR.

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