Metastatic prostate cancer remains a highly lethal disease with no curative therapeutic options. A significant subset of patients with prostate cancer harbor either germline or somatic mutations in DNA repair enzyme genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2, or ATM. Emerging data suggest that drugs that target poly(adenosine diphosphate [ADP]–ribose) polymerase (PARP) enzymes may represent a novel and effective means of treating tumors with these DNA repair defects, including prostate cancers. Here we will review the molecular mechanism of action of PARP inhibitors and discuss how they target tumor cells with faulty DNA repair functions and transcriptional controls. We will review emerging data for the utility of PARP inhibition in the management of metastatic prostate cancer. Finally, we will place PARP inhibitors within the framework of precision medicine–based care of patients with prostate cancer.
In 2016, prostate cancer is expected to be diagnosed in 180,890 men, and 26,120 will die of metastatic disease. While the majority of localized prostate cancers can be controlled with surgery and/or radiation, metastatic disease remains a lethal disease with no curative options. Moreover, prostate cancer is a heterogeneous disease that can be highly lethal but also slow and indolent, as reflected by a 10-year estimated survival of 17% (S9346 trial, unpublished data). The advent of affordable and efficient techniques for profiling tumors molecularly represents an unprecedented opportunity to better characterize the molecular factors that result in indolent and/or lethal disease and to tailor therapy accordingly. Many clinical trials are already underway to examine whether molecularly targeted therapies can improve outcomes. In this review, we will specifically examine the molecular rationale for one of these targeted approaches, poly(adenosine diphosphate [ADP]–ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibition, in prostate cancer. We will review how PARP inhibitors function as a class, review the molecular features that sensitize cancer cells to this therapy, and discuss the data supporting its potential for patients with prostate cancer. We will then outline a strategy for further development of PARP inhibitors in the prostate cancer field.
Metastatic prostate cancer is typically categorized as hormone-sensitive prostate cancer (HSPC), which responds to androgen ablation, or castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), which develops resistance to gonadal suppression. Although bilateral orchiectomy is the historic gold-standard treatment for metastatic HSPC, gonadal suppression is currently accomplished with gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists or antagonists with or without androgen receptor blockade. This approach remains the cornerstone of therapy for men with metastatic HSPC. Emerging data from large phase III trials (CHAARTED and Systemic Therapy in Advancing or Metastatic Prostate Cancer: Evaluation of Drug Efficacy [STAMPEDE]) have also revealed a large survival benefit for the combination of docetaxel and androgen deprivation in metastatic HSPC.[4,5]
Despite these initially effective treatments, the vast majority of men with metastatic HSPC will progress to CRPC, which is the lethal stage of the disease. For these patients, several additional therapies provide benefit by further suppression of androgen signaling (enzalutamide, abiraterone), disruption of the cell cycle in replicating cells (docetaxel, cabazitaxel), targeting of bone metastases (radium-223), or activation of antitumor immunologic response (sipuleucel-T). While these therapies have undoubtedly extended the median survival of patients with metastatic CRPC, their impact on survival is modest and they clearly do not work for all men. In addition, we lack validated genomic markers that would allow better selection of patients for these therapies. Therefore, a better approach that leverages the individual and unique aspects of a patient’s cancer and utilizes therapy based on these factors may allow us to improve patient outcomes.
The development of high-throughput sequencing technology has made it feasible to comprehensively analyze the genetic mutations and gene expression changes in individual prostate cancers with a high degree of resolution in real time. Many institutions now routinely perform these analyses in the hope that they might uncover molecular features that predict response to certain therapies or provide guidance for clinical trial selection. This approach, colloquially termed “precision” medicine, offers the potential promise of providing the right therapy for the right patient at the right time. In the context of prostate cancer, it means molecularly characterizing a tumor and then offering patients drugs that may specifically promote tumor lethality based on these molecular features. The limitation of this approach is that it requires that the target be truly biologically relevant and that there are drugs that can effectively target these molecular changes. The discovery of both somatic and germline DNA repair deficiencies in prostate cancer, together with the development of PARP inhibitors that can kill cancer cells with these defects, is a potent example of targeting therapy to molecularly defined tumor subtypes. While much early work validating this approach has occurred in breast and ovarian cancer populations, emerging data suggest that PARP inhibition is a potentially important strategy for managing a significant subset of prostate cancer patients.
PARP Inhibition: Targeting DNA Repair Deficiency
PARP1 catalyzes the addition of poly(ADP)-ribose (PAR) groups to target proteins in a process termed PARylation. PARP1 is part of a superfamily of proteins that consists of 18 members (including the related tankyrase enzymes), which have many functions within normal and cancer cells. PARP1, the founding member of this family, is responsible for the majority of PARylation of protein targets within cells. It is primarily present in the nucleus in association with chromatin, where it participates in DNA repair and regulation of gene expression by modulating protein localization and activity.
DNA damage occurs continuously in all living cells as a result of oxidative damage or DNA replicative stress. When DNA damage occurs on one strand of the DNA double helix, a single-strand break (SSB) results, but if two SSBs occur in close proximity and on opposite strands, the result is a double-strand break (DSB) and discontinuity of the chromosome (Figures 1 and 2). Even a single DSB is lethal to a human cell if unrepaired because of the risk of large-scale loss of genetic information.
PARP1 plays a critical role in restoration of genomic integrity by facilitating efficient repair of DNA SSBs and DSBs. PARP1 senses DNA damage by binding to the site of SSBs and DSBs and inducing auto-PARylation, which in turn promotes recruitment of DNA repair factors (such as DNA ligase III, polymerase β, and x-ray repair cross-complementing protein 1[XRCC1]). Loss of PARP1 function by means of pharmacologic or genetic mechanisms results in impaired SSB repair and, following initiation of DNA replication, creation of a DNA DSB (see Figure 1). PARP may also play an important role in DSB repair and is known to recruit the MRE11-RAD50-NBS1 complex and to promote PARylation of BRCA1, factors required for the homologous recombination (HR) pathway of DNA DSB repair. Therefore, pharmacologic inhibition of PARP1/2 in DNA repair–defective (DRD) cells that lack efficient HR repair capabilities (such as those harboring BRCA1, BRCA2, or ATM mutations) results in failure to resolve SSBs, which are then converted to DSBs that promote cellular death.
The activity of PARP1 is not limited to DNA damage response. PARP1 is also known to regulate gene expression by modulation of transcription factor activity and regulation of chromatin. PARP1 binds to RNA polymerase II, regulating gene expression, and may also affect tumor suppressor and oncogenic gene expression. PARP1 can also modulate hormone-dependent gene transcription from hormone-responsive nuclear receptors, such as estrogen receptors α and β, progesterone receptor, and androgen receptor.
Furthermore, PARP1 can modulate the transcriptional activity of ETS transcription factors, which suggests that pharmacologic targeting of PARP1 may be useful in TMPRSS2:ERG fusion–positive prostate cancer cells (~50% of prostate cancers). PARP1 physically interacts with the TMPRSS2:ERG gene fusion and the DNA–protein kinase complex, and these interactions are required for ERG-related gene transcription. Interestingly, PARP inhibition with olaparib inhibited prostate cancer xenograft growth if tumors harbored a TMPRSS2:ERG fusion, which suggests that PARP might represent a therapeutic option for prostate cancer patients with TMPRSS2:ERG fusions. This concept is being evaluated in a recently completed clinical trial (National Cancer Institute [NCI] 9012).
Given the biologic importance of PARP1 in the context of cancer, several pharmacologic agents that target this enzyme are currently under development (Table). Most PARP inhibitors mimic the NAD+ substrate of PARP1, competitively bind to the catalytic domain, and inhibit PAR synthesis. PARP inhibitors require the expression of PARP1 and PARP2, and cells that lack expression of both genes are not sensitive to these agents. PARP inhibitors all appear to block catalytic activity and PAR synthesis in a roughly equivalent manner but may show differential ability to trap PARP1/2 at the site of DNA damage (niraparib > olaparib > veliparib), an event that blocks repair and promotes cellular lethality.[15,16] Whether these effects observed in vitro translate into clinically meaningful differences in efficacy is less clear. Furthermore, it is also now clear that the putative PARP inhibitor iniparib may not promote cytotoxicity via PARP inhibition. Several initial studies focused on iniparib, but when phase III trials failed to demonstrate the efficacy of this compound, additional mechanistic work demonstrated that iniparib may not truly be an effective PARP inhibitor.[17,18] These data illustrate the necessity of careful mechanistic characterization of any targeted agent prior to large-scale and expensive studies.
Germline DNA repair deficiency
Inherited defects in DNA repair pathways result in increased susceptibility to the development of malignancy. Defects in mismatch repair proteins promote the development of tumors, including colon and uterine, whereas inherited inactivating mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are required for efficient HR-based DNA DSB repair, significantly increase the risk of breast, ovarian, prostate, and other cancers. Patients with these tumor types typically demonstrate homozygous inactivation of these genes, the first event occurring in the germline, with subsequent clonal somatic inactivation of the remaining allele. These events presumably occur early in tumorigenesis and, by loss of robust DNA DSB repair, induce genomic instability, which causes loss of tumor suppressors, activation of oncogenes, and acceleration of tumorigenesis.
A germline mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 increases the risk of prostate cancer and thus may be found in 2% to 5% of prostate cancers.[22,23] The relative risk of development of prostate cancer for men ≤ age 65 with BRCA1 mutations is 1.8, but BRCA2 mutations in particular seem to increase the risk of prostate cancer formation by age 65 by about 8.6-fold. Mutations of BRCA1, BRCA2, and ATM (and perhaps other DNA repair genes) may also play a role in progression to the lethal castration-resistant state.[22,24-26] The frequency of BRCA2 germline mutations in prostate cancer alone may be as high as 2%. Therefore, the development of therapies to target DNA repair is likely to benefit a relatively large and relatively young population.
Somatic DNA repair deficiency
In addition to germline defects, tumors can acquire defective DNA repair processes through somatic loss of DNA damage response genes, and these somatic mutations can also confer sensitivity to PARP inhibition. This has led to the concept of “BRCAness,” which refers to somatically acquired defects in HR that, as a group, could predict tumor response to PARP inhibitors and cisplatin. Somatic alterations can include either acquired mutations or epigenetic events that silence genes such as ATM; ATR; BRCA1 or -2; CHEK1 or -2; FANCA, -C, -D2, -E, -F; PALB2; MRE11 complex; or RAD51, which prevent efficient HR repair of DNA DSBs.
It is likely that a substantial proportion of men with prostate cancer may demonstrate aspects of BRCAness that could predict sensitivity to PARP inhibitors. Beltran et al performed targeted next-generation sequencing of tumors from men with advanced prostate cancer and found that 12% demonstrated BRCA2 loss and that 8% harbored ATM loss. Furthermore, up to 19.3% of CRPCs demonstrate aberrations in BRCA1, BRCA2, or ATM; these events become more frequent as the disease progresses from hormone-sensitive to castration-resistant. Together these data suggest that BRCAness is a reasonably frequent event in patients with advanced prostate cancer, which makes PARP inhibition an attractive target in this disease.
The concept of promoting the killing of cancer cells by simultaneously blocking SSB repair using PARP inhibition in cells that lack efficient DSB repair is called “synthetic lethality.” In this scenario, tumor cells may harbor either germline or somatically acquired homozygous inactivation of HR. Germline defects (when present) typically affect only one allele in normal cells, and therefore normal tissues retain HR function. This difference between the DNA repair capacity of normal and cancer cells can be leveraged to produce selective cell killing of tumor cells by PARP inhibitors. Treatment of patients with PARP inhibitors will then block normal SSB repair in all cells, and these SSBs are subsequently converted to DSBs by DNA replication. In normal cells, HR restores the genome and allows survival, but in DRD cancer cells, DSBs persist, inducing cellular death selectively in the tumor cell population (see Figure 2).
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