Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Pemetrexed (PEM), a multi-target folate antagonist, has demonstrated targeted efficacy in NSCLC histological subtypes characterized by low thymidylate synthase (TS, one of PEM's molecular targets) expression. Histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) modulate the expression of multiple genes, including thymidylate synthase (TS), one of the main targets of Pemetrexed. Since high levels of TS have been linked to clinical resistance to Pemetrexed in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), we investigated the molecular and functional effects of combined Pemetrexed and ITF2357, a class I/II HDACi currently in clinical trials as anti-cancer agents .ITF2357 reduced TS mRNA and protein expression, potentially affecting sensitivity to Pemetrexed. When the two drugs were used in combiation, their sequence of administration was critical in determining the pharmacologic response: in both NSCLC cell lines and LCSC, a strikingly synergistic reduction in cell viability was observed with the sequence Pemetrexed followed by ITF2357, in both adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma models. Cell death induced by the combination involved both apoptosis and autophagy. Genetic and pharmacological approaches provided an interesting link between these two pathways and showed that sequential Pemetrexed/ITF2357 causes a toxic form of autophagy with consequent activation of a caspase-dependent apoptotic program. In vivo experiments in NSCLC xenografts confirmed that sequential Pemetrexed/ITF2357 is feasible and results in increased inhibition of tumor growth and increased mice survival. Overall, this data provide a strong rationale for the clinical development of sequential schedules employing Pemetrexed followed by HDAC inhibition in NSCLC.
- histone deacetilase