Suppressive effects of iron chelation in clear cell renal cell carcinoma and their dependency on VHL inactivation.

Accumulating data implicate iron accumulation in tumorigenesis of the kidney, particularly the clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) subtype. The von Hippel Lindau (VHL)/hypoxia inducible factor-α (HIF-α) axis is uniquely dysregulated in ccRCC and is a major regulator and regulatory target of iron metabolism, yet the role of iron in ccRCC tumorigenesis and its potential interplay with VHL inactivation remains unclear. We investigated whether ccRCC iron accumulation occurs due to increased cell dependency on iron for growth and survival as a result of VHL inactivation.

Free iron levels were compared between four VHL-mutant ccRCC cell lines (786-0, A704, 769-P, RCC4) and two benign renal tubule epithelial cell lines (RPTEC, HRCEp) using the Phen Green SK fluorescent iron stain. Intracellular iron deprivation was achieved using two clinical iron chelator drugs, deferasirox (DFX) and deferoxamine (DFO), and chelator effects were measured on cell line growth, cell cycle phase, apoptosis, HIF-1α and HIF-2α protein levels and HIF-α transcriptional activity based on expression of target genes CA9, OCT4/POU5F1 and PDGFβ/PDGFB. Similar assays were performed in VHL-mutant ccRCC cells with and without ectopic wild-type VHL expression.

Free iron levels were significantly higher in ccRCC cell lines than benign renal cell lines. DFX depleted cellular free iron more rapidly than DFO and led to greater growth suppression of ccRCC cell lines (>90% at ~30-150µM) than benign renal cell lines (~10-50% at up to 250µM). Similar growth responses were observed using DFO, with the exception that a prolonged treatment duration was necessary to deplete cellular iron adequately for differential growth suppression of the less susceptible A704 ccRCC cell line relative to benign renal cell lines. Apoptosis and G1-phase cell cycle arrest were identified as potential mechanisms of chelator growth suppression based on their induction in ccRCC cell lines but not benign renal cell lines. Iron chelation in ccRCC cells but not benign renal cells suppressed HIF-1α and HIF-2α protein levels and transcriptional activity, and the degree and timing of HIF-2α suppression correlated with the onset of apoptosis and differential growth suppression. Restoration of wild-type VHL function in ccRCC cells was sufficient to prevent chelator-induced apoptosis and G1 cell cycle arrest, indicating that ccRCC susceptibility to iron deprivation is VHL inactivation-dependent.

ccRCC cells are characterized by high free iron levels and a cancer-specific dependency on iron for HIF-α overexpression, cell cycle progression and apoptotic escape. This iron dependency is introduced by VHL inactivation, revealing a novel interplay between VHL/HIF-α dysregulation and ccRCC iron metabolism. Future study is warranted to determine if iron deprivation using chelator drugs provides an effective therapeutic strategy for targeting HIF-2α and suppressing tumor progression in ccRCC patients.

Free radical biology & medicine. 2018 Dec 13 [Epub ahead of print]

Christopher J Greene, Nitika J Sharma, Peter N Fiorica, Emily Forrester, Gary J Smith, Kenneth W Gross, Eric C Kauffman

Department of Urology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY 14263., Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY 14263., Department of Urology, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY 14263; Department of Cancer Genetics, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY 14263; Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14214. Electronic address: .