STK38L kinase ablation promotes loss of cell viability in a subset of KRAS-dependent pancreatic cancer Cell lines
Grant, Trevor James
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Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas (PDACs) are highly aggressive malignancies, associated with poor clinical prognosis and limited therapeutic options. The KRAS oncogene is mutated in over 90% of PDACs and plays a pivotal role in tumor progression. Global gene expression profiling of PDAC reveals 3-4 major molecular subtypes with distinct phenotypic traits and pharmacological vulnerabilities, including variations in oncogenic KRAS pathway dependencies. PDAC cell lines of the aberrantly differentiated endocrine exocrine (ADEX) subtype are robustly KRAS-dependent for survival. The KRAS gene is located on chromosome 12p11-12p12, a region amplified in 5-10% of primary PDACs. Within this amplicon, we identified co-amplification of KRAS with the STK38L gene in a subset of primary human PDACs and PDAC cell lines. This provided rationale to determine whether PDAC cell lines are dependent on STK38L expression for proliferation and viability. STK38L (also known as NDR2) encodes a nuclear Dbf2-related (NDR) serine/threonine kinase, which shares homology with Hippo pathway LATS1/2 kinases. We show that STK38L expression levels are elevated in a subset of primary PDACs and PDAC cell lines that display ADEX subtype characteristics, including overexpression of mutant KRAS. RNAi-mediated depletion of STK38L in a subset of ADEX subtype cell lines results in decreased cellular proliferation and increased apoptotic cell death. Concomitant with cytostatic and cytotoxic effects, STK38L depletion causes increased expression of the LATS2 kinase and the cell cycle regulator p21. LATS2 depletion partially rescues the cell proliferation and viability effects of STK38L depletion. Lastly, high STK38L mRNA expression is associated with worse patient prognosis compared to low STK38L expression in PDACs. Taken together, our study uncovers STK38L as a candidate, targetable vulnerability in a subset of molecularly defined PDACs.