MCL-1 (BCL-2 family anti-apoptotic protein) is responsible for melanoma's resistance to therapy. Cancer initiating cells also contribute to resistance and relapse from treatments. Here we examined the effects of the MCL-1 inhibitor SC-2001 in killing non melanoma-initiating-cells (bulk of melanoma), and melanoma-initiating-cells (MICs). By itself, SC-2001 significantly kills melanoma cells under monolayer conditions in vitro and in a conventional mouse xenograft model. However, even at high doses (10µM), SC-2001 does not effectively eliminate MICs. In contrast, the combination of SC-2001 with ABT-737 (a BCL-2/BCL-XL/BCL-W inhibitor) significantly decreases ALDH+ cells, disrupts primary spheres, and inhibits the self-renewability of MICs. These results were observed in multiple melanomas, including short term cultures of relapsed tumors from current treatments, independent of the mutation status of BRAF or NRAS. Using a low-cell-number mouse xenograft model, we examined the effects of these treatments on the tumor initiating ability of MIC-enriched cultures. The combination therapy reduces tumor formation significantly compared to either drug alone. Mechanistic studies using shRNA and the CRISPR-Cas9 technology demonstrated that the upregulation of pro-apoptotic proteins NOXA and BIM contribute to the combination-induced cell death. These results indicate that the MCL-1 inhibitor SC-2001 combined with ABT-737 is a promising treatment strategy for targeting melanoma.
View details for DOI 10.18632/oncotarget.8695
View details for PubMedID 27086916