New targeted therapies for malignant neural tumors From systematic discovery to zebrafish models

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Cancers in the neural system presents a major health challenge. The most aggressive brain tumor in adults, glioblastoma, has a median survival of 15 months and few therapeutic options. High-risk neuroblastoma, a childhood tumor originating in the sympathetic nervous system, has a 5-year survival under 50%, despite extensive therapy. Molecular characterization of these tumors has had some, but so far limited, clinical impact. In neuroblastoma, patients with ALK mutated tumors can benefit from treatment with ALK inhibitors. In glioblastoma, molecular subgroups have not yet revealed any subgroup-specific gene dependencies due to tumor heterogeneity and plasticity. In this thesis, we identify novel treatment candidates for neuroblastoma and glioblastoma. In paper I, we discover novel drug targets for high-risk neuroblastoma by integrating patient data, large-scale pharmacogenomic profiles, and drug-protein interaction maps. Using a novel algorithm, TargetTranslator, we identify more than 80 targets for this patient group. Activation of cannabinoid receptor 2 (CNR2) or inhibition of mitogen-activated protein kinase 8 (MAPK8) reduces tumor growth in zebrafish and mice models of neuroblastoma, establishing TargetTranslator as a useful tool for target discovery in cancer. In paper II, we screen approximately 1500 compounds across 100 molecularly characterized cell lines from patients to uncover heterogeneous responses to drugs in glioblastoma. We identify several connections between pathway activities and drug response. Sensitivity to proteasome inhibition is linked to oxidative stress response and p53 activity in cells, and can be predicted using a gene signature. We also discover sigma receptors as novel drug targets for glioblastoma and find a synergistic vulnerability in targeting cholesterol homeostasis.In paper III, we systematically explore novel targets for glioblastoma using an siRNA screen. Downregulation of ZBTB16 decreases cell cycle-related proteins and transcripts in patient-derived glioblastoma cells. Using a zebrafish assay, we find that ZBTB16 promotes glioblastoma invasion in vivo. In paper IV, we characterized the growth of seven patient-derived glioblastoma cell lines in orthotopic zebrafish xenografts. Using automated longitudinal imaging, we find that tumor engraftment strongly correlates with tumor initiation capacity in mice xenografts and that the heterogeneous response to proteasome inhibitors is maintained in vivo. In summary, this thesis identifies novel targets for glioblastoma and neuroblastoma using systematic approaches. Treatment candidates are evaluated in novel zebrafish xenograft models that are developed for high-throughput glioblastoma and neuroblastoma drug evaluation. Together, this thesis provides promising evidence of new therapeutic options for malignant neural tumors.