EML4-ALK Variant 3 Promotes Mitotic Errors and Spindle Assembly Checkpoint Deficiency Leading to Increased Microtubule Poison Sensitivity

Mol Cancer Res. 2022 Jun 3;20(6):854-866. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-21-1010.


EML4-ALK is an oncogenic fusion protein present in approximately 5% of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC). Alternative breakpoints in the gene encoding EML4 result in distinct variants that are linked to markedly different patient outcomes. Patients with EML4-ALK variant 3 (V3) respond poorly to ALK inhibitors and have lower survival rates compared with patients with other common variants, such as V1. Here, we use isogenic Beas-2B bronchial epithelial cell lines expressing EML4-ALK V1 or V3, as well as ALK-positive NSCLC patient cells that express V1 (H3122 cells) or V3 (H2228 cells), to show that EML4-ALK V3 but not V1 leads to hyperstabilized K-fibers in mitosis, as well as errors in chromosome congression and segregation. This is consistent with our observation that EML4-ALK V3 but not V1 localizes to spindle microtubules and that wild-type EML4 is a microtubule stabilizing protein. In addition, cells expressing EML4-ALK V3 exhibit loss of spindle assembly checkpoint control that is at least in part dependent on ALK catalytic activity. Finally, we demonstrate that cells expressing EML4-ALK V3 have increased sensitivity to microtubule poisons that interfere with mitotic spindle assembly, whereas combination treatment with paclitaxel and clinically approved ALK inhibitors leads to a synergistic response in terms of reduced survival of H2228 cells.

IMPLICATIONS: This study suggests that combining the microtubule poison, paclitaxel, with targeted ALK inhibitors may provide an effective new treatment option for patients with NSCLC with tumors that express the EML4-ALK V3 oncogenic fusion.

PMID:35656694 | DOI:10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-21-1010