Effective therapy for malignant melanoma, the leading cause of death from skin cancer, remains an area of significant unmet need in oncology. The elevated expression of PKCε in advanced metastatic melanoma results in the increased phosphorylation of the transcription factor ATF2 on threonine 52, which causes its nuclear localization and confers its oncogenic activities. The nuclear-to-mitochondrial translocation of ATF2 following genotoxic stress promotes apoptosis, a function that is largely lost in melanoma cells, due to its confined nuclear localization. Therefore, promoting the nuclear export of ATF2, which sensitizes melanoma cells to apoptosis, represents a novel therapeutic modality.
We conducted a pilot high-throughput screen of 3,800 compounds to identify small molecules that promote melanoma cell death by inducing the cytoplasmic localization of ATF2. The imaging-based ATF2 translocation assay was performed using UACC903 melanoma cells that stably express doxycycline-inducible GFP-ATF2.
We identified 2 compounds (SBI-0089410 and SBI-0087702) that promoted the cytoplasmic localization of ATF2, reduced cell viability, inhibited colony formation, cell motility, anchorage-free growth, and increased mitochondrial membrane permeability. SBI-0089410 inhibited the TPA-induced membrane tranlocation of PKC isoforms, whereas both compounds decreased ATF2 phosphorylation by PKCε and ATF2 transcriptional activity. Overexpression of either constitutively active PKCε or phosphomimic mutant ATF2T52E attenuated the cellular effects of the compounds.
The imaging-based high-throughput screen provides a proof-of-concept for the identification of small molecules that block the oncogenic addiction to PKCε signaling by promoting ATF2 nuclear export, resulting in mitochondrial membrane leakage and melanoma cell death.