Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant brain tumor in children and remains a therapeutic challenge due to its significant therapy-related morbidity. Polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1) is highly expressed in many cancers and regulates critical steps in mitotic progression. Recent studies suggest that targeting PLK1 with small molecule inhibitors is a promising approach to tumor therapy.
We examined the expression of PLK1 mRNA in medulloblastoma tumor samples using microarray analysis. The impact of PLK1 on cell proliferation was evaluated by depleting expression with RNA interference (RNAi) or by inhibiting function with the small molecule inhibitor BI 2536. Colony formation studies were performed to examine the impact of BI 2536 on medulloblastoma cell radiosensitivity. In addition, the impact of depleting PLK1 mRNA on tumor-initiating cells was evaluated using tumor sphere assays.
Analysis of gene expression in two independent cohorts revealed that PLK1 mRNA is overexpressed in some, but not all, medulloblastoma patient samples when compared to normal cerebellum. Inhibition of PLK1 by RNAi significantly decreased medulloblastoma cell proliferation and clonogenic potential and increased cell apoptosis. Similarly, a low nanomolar concentration of BI 2536, a small molecule inhibitor of PLK1, potently inhibited cell growth, strongly suppressed the colony-forming ability, and increased cellular apoptosis of medulloblastoma cells. Furthermore, BI 2536 pretreatment sensitized medulloblastoma cells to ionizing radiation. Inhibition of PLK1 impaired tumor sphere formation of medulloblastoma cells and decreased the expression of SRY (sex determining region Y)-box 2 (SOX2) mRNA in tumor spheres indicating a possible role in targeting tumor inititiating cells.
Our data suggest that targeting PLK1 with small molecule inhibitors, in combination with radiation therapy, is a novel strategy in the treatment of medulloblastoma that warrants further investigation.