BACKGROUND: Despite intensive treatment protocols and recent advances, neuroblastomas still account for approximately 15% of all childhood cancer deaths. In contrast with adult cancers, p53 pathway inactivation in neuroblastomas is rarely caused by p53 mutation but rather by altered MDM2 or p14ARF expression. Moreover, neuroblastomas are characterised by high proliferation rates, frequently triggered by pRb pathway dysfunction due to aberrant expression of cyclin D1, CDK4 or p16INK4a. Simultaneous disturbance of these pathways can occur via co-amplification of MDM2 and CDK4 or homozygous deletion of CDKN2A, which encodes both p14ARF and p16INK4a.
METHODS AND RESULTS: We examined whether both single and combined inhibition of MDM2 and CDK4/6 is effective in reducing neuroblastoma cell viability. In our panel of ten cell lines with a spectrum of aberrations in the p53 and pRb pathway, idasanutlin and abemaciclib were the most potent MDM2 and CDK4/6 inhibitors, respectively. No correlation was observed between the genetic background and response to the single inhibitors. We confirmed this lack of correlation in isogenic systems overexpressing MDM2 and/or CDK4. In addition, combined inhibition did not result in synergistic effects. Instead, abemaciclib diminished the pro-apoptotic effect of idasanutlin, leading to slightly antagonistic effects. In vivo treatment with idasanutlin and abemaciclib led to reduced tumour growth compared with single drug treatment, but no synergistic response was observed.
CONCLUSION: We conclude that p53 and pRb pathway aberrations cannot be used as predictive biomarkers for neuroblastoma sensitivity to MDM2 and/or CDK4/6 inhibitors. Moreover, we advise to be cautious with combining these inhibitors in neuroblastomas.