Inhibition of O-GlcNAc transferase renders prostate cancer cells dependent on CDK9

Harri M Itkonen, Ninu Poulose, Rebecca E Steele, Sara E S Martin, Zebulon G Levine, Damien Y Duveau, Ryan Carelli, Reema Singh, Alfonso Urbanucci, Massimo Loda, Craig J Thomas, Ian G Mills, Suzanne Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


O-GlcNAc transferase (OGT) is a nutrient-sensitive glycosyltransferase that is overexpressed in prostate cancer, the most common cancer in males. We recently developed specific and potent inhibitor targeting this enzyme, and here we report a synthetic lethality screen using this compound. Our screen identified pan-cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor AT7519 as lethal in combination with OGT inhibition. Follow-up chemical and genetic approaches identified CDK9 as the major target for synthetic lethality with OGT inhibition in prostate cancer cells. OGT expression is regulated through retention of the fourth intron in the gene and CDK9 inhibition blunted this regulatory mechanism. CDK9 phosphorylates carboxy-terminal domain (CTD) of RNA Polymerase II (RNA Pol II) to promote transcription elongation. We show that OGT inhibition augments effects of CDK9 inhibitors on CTD phosphorylation and general transcription. Finally, the combined inhibition of both OGT and CDK9 blocked growth of organoids derived from metastatic prostate cancer patients but had minimal effects on normal prostate spheroids. We report a novel synthetic lethal interaction between inhibitors of OGT and CDK9 that specifically kills prostate cancer cells but not normal cells. Our study highlights the potential of combining OGT inhibitors with other treatments to exploit cancer specific vulnerabilities. Implications: The primary contribution of OGT to cell proliferation is unknown, and in this study we use a compound screen to indicate that OGT and CDK9 collaborate to sustain a cancer cell specific pro-proliferative program. A better understanding of how OGT and CDK9 cross-talk will refine our understanding of this novel synthetic lethal interaction.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular cancer research : MCR
Early online date01 Jul 2020
Publication statusEarly online date - 01 Jul 2020

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Copyright ©2020, American Association for Cancer Research.

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