BACKGROUND: Farnesyltransferase inhibitors (FTIs) are anticancer agents with a spectrum of activity in Ras-dependent and independent tumor cellular and xenograph models. How inhibition of protein farnesylation by FTIs results in reduced cancer cell proliferation is poorly understood due to the multiplicity of potential FTase targets. The low toxicity and oral availability of FTIs led to their introduction into clinical trials for the treatment of breast cancer, hematopoietic malignancy, advanced solid tumor and pancreatic cancer treatment, and Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome. Although their efficacy in combinatorial therapies with conventional anticancer treatment for myeloid malignancy and solid tumors is promising, the overall results of clinical tests are far below expectations. Further exploitation of FTIs in the clinic will strongly rely on understanding how these drugs affect global cellular activity. METHODS: Using FTase inhibitor I and genome-wide chemical profiling of the yeast barcoded deletion strain collection, we identified genes whose inactivation increases the antiproliferative action of this FTI peptidomimetic. The main findings were validated in a panel of cancer cell lines using FTI-277 in proliferation and biochemical assays paralleled by multiparametric image-based analyses. RESULTS: ABC transporter Pdr10 or p-21 activated kinase (PAK) gene deletion increases the antiproliferative action of FTase inhibitor I in yeast cells. Consistent with this, enhanced inhibition of cell proliferation by combining group I PAK inhibition, using IPA3, with FTI-277 was observed in melanoma (A375MM), lung (A549) and colon (HT29), but not in epithelial (HeLa) or breast (MCF7), cancer cell lines. Both HeLa and A375MM cells show changes in the nuclear localization of group 1 PAKs in response to FTI-277, but up-regulation of PAK protein levels is observed only in HeLa cells. CONCLUSIONS: Our data support the view that group I PAKs are part of a pro-survival pathway activated by FTI treatment, and group I PAK inactivation potentiates the anti-proliferative action of FTIs in yeast as well as in cancer cells. These findings open new perspectives for the use of FTIs in combinatorial strategies with PAK inhibitors in melanoma, lung and colon malignancy.
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