A team led by Ute Moll at the University of Göttingen in Germany found that blocking HSP90 activity rendered normally protected proteins vulnerable to attack and destruction. One of these proteins—called migration inhibitory factor—drives the growth of breast tumors. HSP90 inhibitors slowed the growth of MIF-expressing breast tumors in mice but had little effect on tumors lacking MIF.
HSP90 inhibitors also look promising for certain forms of leukemia, according to a study by David Weinstock and coworkers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. They showed that HSP90 inhibitors slowed the growth of leukemias driven by hyperactive versions of the enzyme JAK2, many of which become resistant to JAK2-blocking drugs. The HSP90 inhibitors delayed the growth of resistant leukemia cells in mice.
Together these studies suggest that HSP90 may represent a therapeutic target in many cancers.
Intracellular macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) often becomes stabilized in human cancer cells. MIF can promote tumor cell survival, and elevated MIF protein correlates with tumor aggressiveness and poor prognosis. However, the molecular mechanism facilitating MIF stabilization in tumors is not understood. We show that the tumor-activated HSP90 chaperone complex protects MIF from degradation. Pharmacological inhibition of HSP90 activity, or siRNA-mediated knockdown of HSP90 or HDAC6, destabilizes MIF in a variety of human cancer cells. The HSP90-associated E3 ubiquitin ligase CHIP mediates the ensuing proteasome-dependent MIF degradation. Cancer cells contain constitutive endogenous MIF–HSP90 complexes. siRNA-mediated MIF knockdown inhibits proliferation and triggers apoptosis of cultured human cancer cells, whereas HSP90 inhibitor-induced apoptosis is overridden by ectopic MIF expression. In the ErbB2 transgenic model of human HER2-positive breast cancer, genetic ablation of MIF delays tumor progression and prolongs overall survival of mice. Systemic treatment with the HSP90 inhibitor 17AAG reduces MIF expression and blocks growth of MIF-expressing, but not MIF-deficient, tumors. Together, these findings identify MIF as a novel HSP90 client and suggest that HSP90 inhibitors inhibit ErbB2-driven breast tumor growth at least in part by destabilizing MIF.
Enzymatic inhibitors of Janus kinase 2 (JAK2) are in clinical development for the treatment of myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) with rearrangements of the cytokine receptor subunit cytokine receptor–like factor 2 (CRLF2), and other tumors with constitutive JAK2 signaling. In this study, we identify G935R, Y931C, and E864K mutations within the JAK2 kinase domain that confer resistance across a panel of JAK inhibitors, whether present in cis with JAK2 V617F (observed in MPNs) or JAK2 R683G (observed in B-ALL). G935R, Y931C, and E864K do not reduce the sensitivity of JAK2-dependent cells to inhibitors of heat shock protein 90 (HSP90), which promote the degradation of both wild-type and mutant JAK2. HSP90 inhibitors were 100–1,000-fold more potent against CRLF2-rearranged B-ALL cells, which correlated with JAK2 degradation and more extensive blockade of JAK2/STAT5, MAP kinase, and AKT signaling. In addition, the HSP90 inhibitor AUY922 prolonged survival of mice xenografted with primary human CRLF2-rearranged B-ALL further than an enzymatic JAK2 inhibitor. Thus, HSP90 is a promising therapeutic target in JAK2-driven cancers, including those with genetic resistance to JAK enzymatic inhibitors.