Therapeutic and prognostic implications of NOTCH and MAPK signaling in bladder cancer.

Signaling pathways that drive bladder cancer (BC) progression may be promising and specific targets for systemic therapy. Here, we investigated the clinical significance and targetability of NOTCH and MAPK signaling for this aggressive malignancy. We assessed NOTCH1 and MAPK activity in 222 stage III and IV BC specimens of patients that had undergone radical cystectomy, and tested for clinical associations including cancer specific and overall survival. We examined therapeutic effects of NOTCH and MAPK repression in a murine xenograft model of human bladder cancer cells and evaluated tumor growth and tumor cell plasticity. In BC, NOTCH1 and MAPK signaling marked two distinct tumor cell subpopulations. The combination of high NOTCH1 and high MAPK activity indicated poor cancer specific and overall survival in univariate and multivariate analyses. Inhibition of NOTCH and MAPK in BC xenografts in vivo depleted targeted tumor cell subpopulations and revealed strong plasticity in signaling pathway activity. Combinatorial inhibition of NOTCH and MAPK signaling most strongly suppressed tumor growth. Our findings indicate that tumor cell subpopulations with high NOTCH and MAPK activity both contribute to tumor progression. Furthermore, we propose a new concept for BC therapy, which advocates specific and simultaneous targeting of these different tumor cell subpopulations through combined NOTCH and MAPK inhibition.

Cancer science. 2021 Mar 08 [Epub ahead of print]

Gerald B Schulz, Sefer Elezkurtaj, Teresa Börding, Eva Marina Schmidt, Manal Elmasry, Christian G Stief, Thomas Kirchner, Alexander Karl, David Horst

Department of Urology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, 81377, Munich, Germany., Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institute of Pathology, Charitéplatz 1, 10117, Berlin, Germany., Institute of Pathology, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, 80337, Munich, Germany., Department of Urology, Barmherzige Brüder, 80639, Munich, Germany.