Inhibition of DNA2 nuclease as a therapeutic strategy targeting replication stress in cancer cells

Kumar S, Peng X, Daley J., Yang L, Shen J, Nguyen N, Bae G, Hengyao Niu, Peng Y, Hsieh HJ, Wang L, Rao C, Stephan CC, Sung P, Ira G, Peng G
Publication Date
April 2017
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Replication stress is a characteristic feature of cancer cells, which is resulted from sustained proliferative signaling induced by activation of oncogenes or loss of tumor suppressors. In cancer cells, oncogene-induced replication stress manifests as replication-associated lesions, predominantly double-strand DNA breaks (DSBs). An essential mechanism utilized by cells to repair replication-associated DSBs is homologous recombination (HR). In order to overcome replication stress and survive, cancer cells often require enhanced HR repair capacity. Therefore, the key link between HR repair and cellular tolerance to replication-associated DSBs provides us with a mechanistic rationale for exploiting synthetic lethality between HR repair inhibition and replication stress. DNA2 nuclease is an evolutionarily conserved essential enzyme in replication and HR repair. Here we demonstrate that DNA2 is overexpressed in pancreatic cancers, one of the deadliest and more aggressive forms of human cancers, where mutations in the KRAS are present in 90-95% of cases. In addition, depletion of DNA2 significantly reduces pancreatic cancer cell survival and xenograft tumor growth, suggesting the therapeutic potential of DNA2 inhibition. Finally, we develop a robust high-throughput biochemistry assay to screen for inhibitors of the DNA2 nuclease activity. The top inhibitors were shown to be efficacious against both yeast Dna2 and human DNA2. Treatment of cancer cells with DNA2 inhibitors recapitulates phenotypes observed upon DNA2 depletion, including decreased DNA double strand break end resection and attenuation of HR repair. Similar to genetic ablation of DNA2, chemical inhibition of DNA2 selectively attenuates the growth of various cancer cells with oncogene-induced replication stress. Taken together, our findings open a new avenue to develop a new class of anticancer drugs by targeting druggable nuclease DNA2. We propose DNA2 inhibition as new strategy in cancer therapy by targeting replication stress, a molecular property of cancer cells that is acquired as a result of oncogene activation instead of targeting currently undruggable oncoprotein itself such as KRAS.


Kumar S, Peng X, Daley J, Yang L, Shen J, Nguyen N, Bae G, Niu H, Peng Y, Hsieh HJ, Wang L, Rao C, Stephan CC, Sung P, Ira G, Peng G.
Oncogenesis. 2017 Apr 17;6(4):e319. doi: 10.1038/oncsis.2017.15.
PMID: 28414320