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Pharmacological inhibition of the ALK axis elicits therapeutic potential in Consensus Molecular Subtype 1 colon cancer patients

By Martina Mazzeschi, Michela Sgarzi, Donatella Romaniello, Valerio Gelfo, Carola Cavallo, Spartaco Santi, Michelangelo Fiorentino, Gabriele D’Uva, Balázs Győrffy, Ruth Palmer, Mattia Lauriola

Posted 08 Oct 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.07.307991

In the last years, several efforts have been made to classify colorectal cancer (CRC) into well-defined molecular subgroups, representing the intrinsic inter-patient heterogeneity, known as Consensus Molecular Subtypes (CMSs). In this work, we performed a meta-analysis of 1700 CRC patients stratified into four CMSs. We identified a negative correlation between a high level of anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) expression and relapse-free survival, exclusively in CMS1 subtype. Stemming from this observation, we tested several CMSs in vitro models with crizotinib (CZB) or alectinib (ALC), potent ALK inhibitors, already approved for clinical use. ALK interception strongly inhibits cell proliferation already at nanomolar doses, specifically in CMS1 cell lines, while no effect was found in CMS2/3/4 groups. Furthermore, in vivo imaging identified a role for ALK in the dynamic formation of 3D spheroids, which was impaired by the pharmacological inhibition of ALK. Consistently, CZB was responsible for the dampened activation of ALK along with the downstream AKT cascade. Mechanistically, we found a specific pro-apoptotic effect of ALK inhibition in CMS1 cell lines, both in 2D and 3D. Confocal analysis suggests that inhibition in CMS1 cells enhances cell-cell adhesion when growing in 3D. In agreement with our findings, an ALK signature encompassing 65 genes statistically associated with worse relapse-free survival in CMS1 subtype. Finally, the efficacy of ALK inhibition treatment was demonstrated in patient-derived organoids. Collectively, our findings suggest that ALK inhibition may represent an attractive therapy for CRC, and CMS classification may provide a useful tool to identify patients who could benefit from this treatment. These findings offer rationale and pharmacological strategies for the treatment of CMS1 CRC. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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