10. November 2020

Joint research paper published in Cell Death & Disease

RALB GTPase: a critical regulator of DR5 expression and TRAIL sensitivity in KRAS mutant colorectal cancer

Hajrah Khawaja, Andrew Campbell, Jamie Z. Roberts, Arman Javadi, Paul O’Reilly, Darragh McArt, Wendy L. Allen, Joanna Majkut, Markus Rehm, Alberto Bardelli, Federica Di Nicolantonio, Christopher J. Scott, Richard Kennedy, Nicolas Vitale, Timothy Harrison, Owen J. Sansom, Daniel B. Longley, Emma Evergren & Sandra Van Schaeybroeck


RAS mutant (MT) metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) is resistant to MEK1/2 inhibition and remains a difficult-to-treat group. Therefore, there is an unmet need for novel treatment options for RASMT mCRC. RALA and RALB GTPases function downstream of RAS and have been found to be key regulators of several cell functions implicated in KRAS-driven tumorigenesis. However, their role as regulators of the apoptotic machinery remains to be elucidated. Here, we found that inhibition of RALB expression, but not RALA, resulted in Caspase-8-dependent cell death in KRASMT CRC cells, which was not further increased following MEK1/2 inhibition. Proteomic analysis and mechanistic studies revealed that RALB depletion induced a marked upregulation of the pro-apoptotic cell surface TRAIL Death Receptor 5 (DR5) (also known as TRAIL-R2), primarily through modulating DR5 protein lysosomal degradation. Moreover, DR5 knockdown or knockout attenuated siRALB-induced apoptosis, confirming the role of the extrinsic apoptotic pathway as a regulator of siRALB-induced cell death. Importantly, TRAIL treatment resulted in the association of RALB with the death-inducing signalling complex (DISC) and targeting RALB using pharmacologic inhibition or RNAi approaches triggered a potent increase in TRAIL-induced cell death in KRASMT CRC cells. Significantly, high RALB mRNA levels were found in the poor prognostic Colorectal Cancer Intrinsic Subtypes (CRIS)-B CRC subgroup. Collectively, this study provides to our knowledge the first evidence for a role for RALB in apoptotic priming and suggests that RALB inhibition may be a promising strategy to improve response to TRAIL treatment in poor prognostic RASMT CRIS-B CRC.

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