Functional determinants of cell cycle plasticity and sensitivity to CDK4/6 inhibition

Vishnu Kumarasamy, Paris Vail, Ram Nambiar, Agnieszka K. Witkiewicz, Erik S. Knudsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Intrinsic or acquired resistance to clinically approved CDK4/6 inhibitors has emerged as a major obstacle that hinders their utility beyond ERþ breast cancer. In this study, CDK4/6-dependent and -resistant models were employed to identify functional determinants of response to pharmacologic CDK4/6 inhibitors. In all models tested, the activation of RB and inhibition of CDK2 activity emerged as determinants of sensitivity. While depleting CDK4 and 6 was sufficient to limit proliferation in specific resistance settings, RB loss rendered cells completely independent of these kinases. The main downstream target in this context was the activation status of CDK2, which was suppressed with CDK4/6 inhibition in an RB-dependent fashion. Protein levels of p27 were associated with plasticity/rigidity of the cell cycle and correlated with sensitivity to CDK4/6 inhibition. Exogenous overexpression and pharmacologic induction of p27 via inhibition of SKP2 and targeting the MEK/ERK pathway enhanced the cytostatic effect of CDK4/6 inhibitors. Mice bearing ERþ xenografts displayed a durable antitumor response to palbociclib; however, over the course of treatment, few cells retained RB phosphorylation, which was associated with limited p27 protein levels as determined by multispectral imaging. Similarly, combination treatment of palbociclib with a MEK inhibitor in pancreatic cancer PDX models upregulated p27 and further enhanced the in vivo tumor response to palbociclib. Collectively, these results suggest that the cell cycle plasticity, which enables tumor models to evade palbociclib-mediated activation of RB, could be targeted using a clinically applicable CDK2 inhibitor. Significance: This work provides a mechanistic insight toward understanding the functional roles of multiple cell cycle regulators that drive plasticity and sensitivity to CDK4/6 inhibition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1347-1360
Number of pages14
JournalCancer research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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