Adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC) is an aggressive cancer with a 5 year survival rate of 20–30 %. Various factors have been implicated in the pathogenesis of ACC including dysregulation of the G2/M transition and aberrant activity of p53 and MDM2. Polo-like kinase 1 (PLK-1) negatively modulates p53 functioning, promotes MDM2 activity through its phosphorylation, and is involved in the G2/M transition. Gene expression profiling of 44 ACC samples showed that increased expression of PLK-1 in 29 % of ACC. Consequently, we examined PLK-1’s role in the modulation of the p53 signaling pathway in adrenocortical cancer.
We used siRNA knock down PLK-1 and pharmacological inhibition of PLK-1 and MDM2 ACC cell lines SW-13 and H295R. We examined viability, protein expression, p53 transactivation, and induction of apoptosis.
Knocking down expression of PLK-1 with siRNA or inhibition of PLK-1 by a small molecule inhibitor, BI-2536, resulted in a loss of viability of up to 70 % in the ACC cell lines H295R and SW-13. In xenograft models, BI-2536 demonstrated marked inhibition of growth of SW-13 with less inhibition of H295R. BI-2536 treatment resulted in a decrease in mutant p53 protein in SW-13 cells but had no effect on wild-type p53 protein levels in H295R cells. Additionally, inhibition of PLK-1 restored wild-type p53’s transactivation and apoptotic functions in H295R cells, while these functions of mutant p53 were restored only to a smaller extent. Furthermore, inhibition of MDM2 with nutlin-3 reduced the viability of both the ACC cells and also reactivated wild-type p53′s apoptotic function. Inhibition of PLK-1 sensitized the ACC cell lines to MDM2 inhibition and this dual inhibition resulted in an additive apoptotic response in H295R cells with wild-type p53.
These preclinical studies suggest that targeting p53 through PLK-1 is an attractive chemotherapy strategy warranting further investigation in adrenocortical cancer.