Tumor heterogeneity and lack of knowledge about resistant cell states remain a barrier to targeted cancer therapies. Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) depend on Hedgehog (Hh)/Gli signaling, but can develop mechanisms of Smoothened (SMO) inhibitor resistance. We previously identified a nuclear myocardin-related transcription factor (nMRTF) resistance pathway that amplifies noncanonical Gli1 activity, but characteristics and drivers of the nMRTF cell state remain unknown. Here, we use single cell RNA-sequencing of patient tumors to identify three prognostic surface markers (LYPD3, TACSTD2, and LY6D) which correlate with nMRTF and resistance to SMO inhibitors. The nMRTF cell state resembles transit-amplifying cells of the hair follicle matrix, with AP-1 and TGFSS cooperativity driving nMRTF activation. JNK/AP-1 signaling commissions chromatin accessibility and Smad3 DNA binding leading to a transcriptional program of RhoGEFs that facilitate nMRTF activity. Importantly, small molecule AP-1 inhibitors selectively target LYPD3+/TACSTD2+/LY6D+ nMRTF human BCCs ex vivo, opening an avenue for improving combinatorial therapies.
View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-020-18762-5
View details for PubMedID 33033234