J Cancer 2020; 11(1):132-141. doi:10.7150/jca.35426 This issue

Research Paper

Aberrant CDK9 expression within chordoma tissues and the therapeutic potential of a selective CDK9 inhibitor LDC000067

Shen Shen1,2, Dylan C. Dean2, Zujiang Yu1, Francis Hornicek2, Quancheng Kan1✉, Zhenfeng Duan1,2✉

1. Precision Medicine Center, The First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, Zhengzhou, Henan 450052, China.
2. Sarcoma Biology Laboratory, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine at University of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.

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Shen S, Dean DC, Yu Z, Hornicek F, Kan Q, Duan Z. Aberrant CDK9 expression within chordoma tissues and the therapeutic potential of a selective CDK9 inhibitor LDC000067. J Cancer 2020; 11(1):132-141. doi:10.7150/jca.35426. Available from https://www.jcancer.org/v11p0132.htm

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Objectives: Chordomas are slow-growing malignancies that commonly affect vital neurological structures. These neoplasms are highly resistant to current chemotherapeutic regimens and often recur after surgical intervention. Therefore, there is an urgent need to identify molecular targets and more robust drugs to improve chordoma patient outcomes. It is well accepted that cyclin-dependent protein kinase 9 (CDK9) has tumorigenic roles in various cancers; however, the expression and significance of CDK9 in chordoma remains unknown.

Methods: Expression of CDK9 in chordoma cell lines and tumor tissues was examined by Western blot and immunohistochemistry (IHC). The correlation between CDK9 expression in patient tissues and clinical prognosis was analyzed. The functional roles of CDK9 in chordoma were investigated after the addition of small interfering RNA (siRNA) and CDK9 inhibitor (LDC000067). Cell growth and proliferation were assessed with MTT and clonogenic assays. The effect of CDK9 inhibition on chordoma cells was further evaluated with a three-dimensional (3D) cell culture model which mimics the in vivo environment.

Results: CDK9 was expressed in both chordoma cell lines and chordoma tissues. High- expression of CDK9 correlated with recurrence and poor outcomes for chordoma patients. CDK9 silencing with siRNA decreased growth and proliferation of chordoma cells and lowered levels of Mcl-1 and RNA polymerase II (RNAP II) phosphorylation. Pharmacological inhibition of CDK9 with the small molecular inhibitor LDC000067 reduced cell growth, supported apoptosis, suppressed cell colony formation in a clonogenic assay, and decreased spheroid growth in 3D culture.

Conclusion: We demonstrate that CDK9 expression in chordoma correlates with patient outcome, and, when inhibited, chordoma cell growth and proliferation significantly decreases. Taken together, these results support CDK9 as an emerging potential target in chordoma therapy.

Keywords: CDK9, chordoma tissues, LDC000067