MEK/MELK inhibition and blood-brain barrier deficiencies in atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors.



Altogether, we developed a combination treatment strategy for AT/RT based on MEK/MELK inhibition and identify therapeutically exploitable BBB deficiencies in these tumors.


Atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumors (AT/RT) are rare, but highly aggressive. These entities are of embryonal origin occurring in the central nervous system (CNS) of young children. Molecularly these tumors are driven by a single hallmark mutation, resulting in inactivation of SMARCB1 or SMARCA4. Additionally, activation of the MAPK signaling axis and preclinical antitumor efficacy of its inhibition have been described in AT/RT.


We found MELK to be highly overexpressed in both patient samples of AT/RT and our primary cultures and xenografts. We identified a potent antitumor efficacy of the MELK inhibitor OTSSP167, as well as strong synergy with the MEK inhibitor trametinib, against primary AT/RT neurospheres. Additionally, vascular phenotyping of AT/RT patient material and xenografts revealed significant BBB aberrancies in these tumors. Finally, we show in vivo efficacy of the non-BBB penetrable drugs OTSSP167 and trametinib in AT/RT xenografts, demonstrating the therapeutic implications of the observed BBB deficiencies and validating MEK/MELK inhibition as a potential treatment.


We established and validated a patient-derived neurosphere culture and xenograft model of sonic hedgehog (SHH) subtype AT/RT, at diagnosis and relapse from the same patient. We set out to study the vascular phenotype of these tumors to evaluate the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) in AT/RT. We also used the model to study combined mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MEK) and maternal embryonic leucine zipper kinase (MELK) inhibition as a therapeutic strategy for AT/RT.

More about this publication

  • Volume 22
  • Issue nr. 1
  • Pages 58-69
  • Publication date 11-01-2020

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