Targeting MYC dependence in cancer by inhibiting BET bromodomains.
The MYC transcription factor is a master regulator of diverse cellular functions and has been long considered a compelling therapeutic target because of its role in a range of human malignancies. However, pharmacologic inhibition of MYC function has proven challenging because of both the diverse mechanisms driving its aberrant expression and the challenge of disrupting protein-DNA interactions. Here, we demonstrate the rapid and potent abrogation of MYC gene transcription by representative small molecule inhibitors of the BET family of chromatin adaptors. MYC transcriptional suppression was observed in the context of the natural, chromosomally translocated, and amplified gene locus. Inhibition of BET bromodomain-promoter interactions and subsequent reduction of MYC transcript and protein levels resulted in G(1) arrest and extensive apoptosis in a variety of leukemia and lymphoma cell lines. Exogenous expression of MYC from an artificial promoter that is resistant to BET regulation significantly protected cells from cell cycle arrest and growth suppression by BET inhibitors. MYC suppression was accompanied by deregulation of the MYC transcriptome, including potent reactivation of the p21 tumor suppressor. Treatment with a BET inhibitor resulted in significant antitumor activity in xenograft models of Burkitt's lymphoma and acute myeloid leukemia. These findings demonstrate that pharmacologic inhibition of MYC is achievable through targeting BET bromodomains. Such inhibitors may have clinical utility given the widespread pathogenetic role of MYC in cancer.