Background: Neuroblastoma (NB) is an aggressive childhood malignancy in children up to 5 years of age. High-stage tumors frequently relapse even after aggressive multimodal treatment, and then show therapy resistance, typically resulting in patient death. New molecular-targeted compounds that effectively suppress tumor growth and prevent relapse with more efficacy are urgently needed. We and others previously showed that polyamines (PA) like spermidine and spermine are essential for NB tumorigenesis and that DFMO, an inhibitor of the key PA synthesis gene product ODC, is effective both in vitro and in vivo, securing its evaluation in NB clinical trials. To find additional compounds interfering with PA biosynthesis, we tested sulfasalazine (SSZ), an FDA-approved salicylate-based anti-inflammatory and immune-modulatory drug, recently identified to inhibit sepiapterin reductase (SPR). We earlier presented evidence for a physical interaction between ODC and SPR and we showed that RNAi-mediated knockdown of SPR expression significantly reduced native ODC enzyme activity and impeded NB cell proliferation. Methods: Human NB mRNA expression datasets in the public domain were analyzed using the R2 platform. Cell viability, isobologram, and combination index analyses as a result of SSZ treatment with our without DFMO were carried out in NB cell cultures. Molecular protein-ligand docking was achieved using the GRAMM algorithm. Statistical analyses were performed with the Kruskal-Wallis test, 2log Pearson test, and Student's t test. Results: In this study, we show the clinical relevance of SPR in human NB tumors. We found that high SPR expression is significantly correlated to unfavorable NB characteristics like high age at diagnosis, MYCN amplification, and high INSS stage. SSZ inhibits the growth of NB cells in vitro, presumably due to the inhibition of SPR as predicted by computational docking of SSZ into SPR. Importantly, the combination of SSZ with DFMO produces synergistic antiproliferative effects in vitro. Conclusions: The results suggest the use of SSZ in combination with DFMO for further experiments, and possible prioritization as a novel therapy for the treatment of NB patients.

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BMC Cancer
Department of Pediatrics

Yco, L.P, Geerts, D, Mocz, G, Koster, J, & Bachmann, A.S. (2015). Effect of sulfasalazine on human neuroblastoma: Analysis of sepiapterin reductase (SPR) as a new therapeutic target. BMC Cancer, 15(1). doi:10.1186/s12885-015-1447-y