Inverse agonists of retinoic acid receptor/retinoid X receptor signaling as lineage-specific antitumor agents against human adenoid cystic carcinoma

Sara Viragova, Luis Aparicio, Pierangela Palmerini, Junfei Zhao, Luis E. Valencia Salazar, Alexandra Schurer, Anika Dhuri, Debashis Sahoo, Christopher A. Moskaluk, Raul Rabadan, Piero Dalerba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) is a lethal malignancy of exocrine glands, characterized by the coexistence within tumor tissues of 2 distinct populations of cancer cells, phenotypically similar to the myoepithelial and ductal lineages of normal salivary epithelia. The developmental relationship linking these 2 cell types, and their differential vulnerability to antitumor treatments, remains unknown. METHODS: Using single-cell RNA sequencing, we identified cell-surface markers (CD49f, KIT) that enabled the differential purification of myoepithelial-like (CD49fhigh/KITneg) and ductal-like (CD49flow/KIT+) cells from patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) of human ACCs. Using prospective xenotransplantation experiments, we compared the tumor-initiating capacity of the 2 cell types and tested whether one could differentiate into the other. Finally, we searched for signaling pathways with differential activation between the 2 cell types and tested their role as lineage-specific therapeutic targets. RESULTS: Myoepithelial-like cells displayed higher tumorigenicity than ductal-like cells and acted as their progenitors. Myoepithelial-like and ductal-like cells displayed differential expression of genes encoding for suppressors and activators of retinoic acid signaling, respectively. Agonists of retinoic acid receptor (RAR) or retinoid X receptor (RXR) signaling (all-trans retinoic acid, bexarotene) promoted myoepithelial-to-ductal differentiation, whereas suppression of RAR/RXR signaling with a dominant-negative RAR construct abrogated it. Inverse agonists of RAR/RXR signaling (BMS493, AGN193109) displayed selective toxicity against ductal-like cells and in vivo antitumor activity against PDX models of human ACC. CONCLUSIONS: In human ACCs, myoepithelial-like cells act as progenitors of ductal-like cells, and myoepithelial-to-ductal differentiation is promoted by RAR/RXR signaling. Suppression of RAR/RXR signaling is lethal to ductal-like cells and represents a new therapeutic approach against human ACCs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)838-852
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the National Cancer Institute
Issue number7
StatePublished - 6 Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


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