Breast cancer is a major cause of cancer-related death. TRAIL has been of interest as a cancer therapeutic, but only a subset of triple negative breast cancers (TNBC) is sensitive to TRAIL. The small molecule ONC201 induces expression of TRAIL and its receptor DR5. ONC201 has entered clinical trials in advanced cancers. Here we show that ONC201 is efficacious against both TNBC and non-TNBC cells (n=13). A subset of TNBC and non-TNBC cells succumb to ONC201-induced cell death. In 2/8 TNBC cell lines, ONC201 treatment induces caspase-8 cleavage and cell death that is blocked by TRAIL-neutralizing antibody RIK2. The pro-apoptotic effect of ONC201 translates to in vivo efficacy in the MDA-MB-468 xenograft model. In most TNBC lines tested (6/8) ONC201 has an anti-proliferative effect but does not induce apoptosis. ONC201 decreases cyclin D1 expression and causes an accumulation of cells in the G1 phase of the cell cycle. pRb expression is associated with sensitivity to the anti-proliferative effects of ONC201, and the compound synergizes with taxanes in less sensitive cells. All non-TNBC cells (n=5) are growth inhibited following ONC201 treatment, and unlike what has been observed with TRAIL, a subset (n=2) show PARP cleavage. In these cells, cell death induced by ONC201 is TRAIL-independent. Our data demonstrate that ONC201 has potent anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects in a broad range of breast cancer subtypes, through TRAIL-dependent and TRAIL-independent mechanisms. These findings develop a pre-clinical rationale for developing ONC201 as a single agent and/or in combination with approved therapies in breast cancer.
- Received February 6, 2017.
- Revision received March 30, 2017.
- Accepted March 30, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.