CDK9 Inhibition Induces a Metabolic Switch that Renders Prostate Cancer Cells Dependent on Fatty Acid Oxidation.
Itkonen HM., Poulose N., Walker S., Mills IG.
Cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK9), a key regulator of RNA-polymerase II, is a candidate drug target for cancers driven by transcriptional deregulation. Here we report a multi-omics-profiling of prostate cancer cell responses to CDK9 inhibition to identify synthetic lethal interactions. These interactions were validated using live-cell imaging, mitochondrial flux-, viability- and cell death activation assays. We show that CDK9 inhibition induces acute metabolic stress in prostate cancer cells. This is manifested by a drastic down-regulation of mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation, ATP depletion and induction of a rapid and sustained phosphorylation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), the key sensor of cellular energy homeostasis. We used metabolomics to demonstrate that inhibition of CDK9 leads to accumulation of acyl-carnitines, metabolic intermediates in fatty acid oxidation (FAO). Acyl-carnitines are produced by carnitine palmitoyltransferase enzymes 1 and 2 (CPT), and we used both genetic and pharmacological tools to show that inhibition of CPT-activity is synthetically lethal with CDK9 inhibition. To our knowledge this is the first report to show that CDK9 inhibition dramatically alters cancer cell metabolism.