Merlin is a tumour suppressor protein that is frequently mutated or downregulated in cancer. Biallelic Merlin inactivation is causative of tumour formation, including schwannoma, meningioma and ependymoma. These tumours can occur sporadically or as part of the genetic condition Neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) and cause significant morbidity. The current treatment options are restricted to surgery and radiotherapy, which are invasive and may cause further tumour development. The activity of both the E3 ubiquitin ligase complex Cullin 4 really interesting new gene (RING) E3 ubiquitin ligase- DNA damage binding protein (DDB1) and Cullin 4 associated factor 1 (CRL4-DCAF1) and Kinase suppressor of RAS 1 (KSR1) have been shown to be upregulated in schwannoma to drive tumour growth. KSR1 has also been shown to interact with components of the CRL4-DCAF1 complex. We investigated the expression, interaction and therapeutic potential of targeting these proteins in Merlin deficient schwannoma and meningioma using a primary human cell model and relevant cell lines. We found that DCAF1 and KSR1 protein were overexpressed in schwannoma and meningioma and confirmed that targeting both DCAF1 and KSR1 in meningioma had additive effects on proliferation. We also identified that CRL4-DCAF1 facilitates KSR1 dependent RAF/Mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK)/ Extracellular signal regulated kinase (ERK) kinase (MEK)/ERK pathway activity. We showed MLN3651, a neddylation inhibitor that targets ubiquitin ligase activity, reduced proliferation and activated apoptosis in Merlin-deficient tumours. We also showed that Merlin-positive tumours were less sensitive to MLN3651 than Merlin-deficient tumours; therefore, MLN3651 sensitivity may be CRL4-DCAF1-dependent. Finally, combination of MLN3651 and the MEK1/2 inhibitor AZD6244 had additive effects, particularly in meningioma. Combinatorial therapy activated the Hippo pathway, inhibited RAF/MEK/ERK pathway activity and proliferation demonstrating that targeting the activity and downstream pathways of both DCAF1 and KSR1 represents an attractive novel therapeutic strategy in Merlin-deficient tumours.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.