The contribution of DNA replication stress marked by high-intensity, pan-nuclear γH2AX staining to chemosensitization by CHK1 and WEE1 inhibitors

<p>Small molecule inhibitors of the checkpoint proteins CHK1 and WEE1 are currently in clinical development in combination with the antimetabolite gemcitabine. It is unclear, however, if there is a therapeutic advantage to CHK1 vs. WEE1 inhibition for chemosensitization. The goals of this study were to directly compare the relative efficacies of the CHK1 inhibitor MK8776 and the WEE1 inhibitor AZD1775 to sensitize pancreatic cancer cell lines to gemcitabine and to identify pharmacodynamic biomarkers predictive of chemosensitization. Cells treated with gemcitabine and either MK8776 or AZD1775 were first assessed for clonogenic survival. With the exception of the homologous recombination-defective Capan1 cells, which were relatively insensitive to MK8776, we found that these cell lines were similarly sensitized to gemcitabine by CHK1 or WEE1 inhibition. The abilities of either the CDK1/2 inhibitor roscovitine or exogenous nucleosides to prevent MK8776 or AZD1775-mediated chemosensitization, however, were both inhibitor-dependent and variable among cell lines. Given the importance of DNA replication stress to gemcitabine chemosensitization, we next assessed high-intensity, pan-nuclear γH2AX staining as a pharmacodynamic marker for sensitization. In contrast to total γH2AX, aberrant mitotic entry or sub-G1 DNA content, high-intensity γH2AX staining correlated with chemosensitization by either MK8776 or AZD1775 (R<sup>2</sup> 0.83 – 0.53). In summary, we found that MK8776 and AZD1775 sensitize to gemcitabine with similar efficacy. Furthermore, our results suggest that the effects of CHK1 and WEE1 inhibition on gemcitabine-mediated replication stress best predict chemosensitization and support the use of high-intensity or pan-nuclear γH2AX staining as a marker for therapeutic response.</p>