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Cdc7 is a potent anti-cancer target in pancreatic cancer due to abrogation of the DNA origin activation checkpoint

Cdc7 is a serine/threonine kinase which is responsible for the ‘firing’ of replication origins leading to initiation of DNA replication. Inhibition or depletion of Cdc7 in normal cells triggers a DNA origin activation checkpoint causing a reversible G1 arrest. Here we investigate Cdc7 as a novel therapeutic target in pancreatic cancer.

Cdc7 target validation was performed by immunoexpression profiling in a cohort of 73 patients with pancreatic adenocarcinoma including 24 controls. Secondly Cdc7 kinase was targeted in Capan-1 and PANC-1 pancreatic cancer cell line models using either an siRNA against Cdc7 or alternatively a small molecule inhibitor (SMI) of Cdc7 (PHA-767491).

Cdc7 was significantly overexpressed in pancreatic adenocarcinoma compared to benign pancreatic tissue (median LI 34.3% vs. 1.3%; P<0.0001). Cdc7 knockdown using siRNA in Capan-1 and PANC-1 cells resulted in marked apoptotic cell death when compared with control cells. A prominent sub-G1 peak was seen on flow cytometry (sub-G1 51% vs. 3% and 45% vs. 0.7% in Capan-1 and PANC-1 cells, respectively). Annexin V labelling confirmed apoptosis in 64% vs. 11% and 75% vs. 8%, respectively. Western blotting showed cleavage of PARP-1 and caspase-3 and presence of γH2A.X. TUNEL assay showed strong staining in treated cells. These results were mirrored following Cdc7 kinase inhibition with PHA-767491.

Our findings show that Cdc7 is a potent anti-cancer target in pancreatic adenocarcinoma and that Cdc7 immunoexpression levels might be used as a companion diagnostic to predict response to therapeutic siRNAs or SMIs directed against this kinase.

Authors: Huggett MT, Tudzarova S, Proctor I, Loddo M, Keane MG, Stoeber K, Williams GH, Pereira SP