Research Papers:

UCN-01 enhances cytotoxicity of irinotecan in colorectal cancer stem-like cells by impairing DNA damage response

Michele Signore _, Mariachiara Buccarelli, Emanuela Pilozzi, Gabriele De Luca, Marianna Cappellari, Maurizio Fanciulli, Frauke Goeman, Elisa Melucci, Mauro Biffoni and Lucia Ricci-Vitiani

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:44113-44128. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.9859

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Michele Signore1,*, Mariachiara Buccarelli1,*, Emanuela Pilozzi2, Gabriele De Luca1, Marianna Cappellari1, Maurizio Fanciulli3, Frauke Goeman3, Elisa Melucci3, Mauro Biffoni1,§, Lucia Ricci-Vitiani1,§

1Department of Hematology, Oncology and Molecular Medicine, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy

2Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine, Sant'Andrea Hospital, University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy

3Scientific Direction, Regina Elena National Cancer Institute, Rome, Italy

*These authors have contributed equally to this work

§These two authors shared senior authorship

Correspondence to:

Michele Signore, email: [email protected]

Lucia Ricci-Vitiani, email: [email protected]

Keywords: colorectal cancer stem-like cells, kinase inhibitors, Chk1, DNA damage, phospho-proteomics

Received: October 13, 2015     Accepted: May 13, 2016     Published: June 6, 2016


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most common and lethal cancers worldwide. Despite recent progress, the prognosis of advanced stage CRC remains poor, mainly because of cancer recurrence and metastasis. The high morbidity and mortality of CRC has been recently ascribed to a small population of tumor cells that hold the potential of tumor initiation, i.e. cancer stem cells (CSCs), which play a pivotal role in cancer recurrence and metastasis and are not eradicated by current therapy. We screened CRC-SCs in vitro with a library of protein kinase inhibitors and showed that CRC-SCs are resistant to specific inhibition of the major signaling pathways involved in cell survival and proliferation. Nonetheless, broad-spectrum inhibition by the staurosporin derivative UCN-01 blocks CRC-SC growth and potentiates the activity of irinotecan in vitro and in vivo CRC-SC-derived models. Reverse-Phase Protein Microarrays (RPPA) revealed that, albeit CRC-SCs display individual phospho-proteomic profiles, sensitivity of CRC-SCs to UCN-01 relies on the interference with the DNA damage response mediated by Chk1. Combination of LY2603618, a specific Chk1/2 inhibitor, with irinotecan resulted in a significant reduction of CRC-SC growth in vivo, confirming that irinotecan treatment coupled to inhibition of Chk1 represents a potentially effective therapeutic approach for CRC treatment.

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