Targeting mechanisms that are especially important in the DNA damage response of pre-malignant and cancer cells may lead to development of novel chemosensitizing agents. Cancer cells are deficient in the primary G1/S cell cycle checkpoint, often through p53 functional loss. Therefore, their survival after DNA damage is more dependent on later cell cycle checkpoints such as the replication checkpoint that ensures DNA is copied fully before mitosis begins. Caffeine is the most commonly used inhibitor of this checkpoint and our prior studies have shown promise for caffeine as an inhibitor of ultraviolet-induced skin cancer by suppressing the ATR/Chk1 pathway required for replication checkpoint function. Beyond the unique case of UV-induced skin malignancies, caffeine cannot be used to sensitize cancers due to non-specific toxicity at the required doses. Through an unbiased screen for DNA damage response inhibitors, we discovered four novel compounds that are non-toxic to cells when given alone, but sensitize p53-deficient cells to diverse classes of chemotherapeutic agents. All four compounds disrupted the normal cellular response to DNA stresses, inhibited Chk1 phosphorylation via mechanism(s) that are distinct from that of caffeine, and were >250 times more potent than caffeine. The broad long-term goals of this proposal are: to gain insight into therapeutically targetable components of the DNA damage response;to explore the feasibility of using these targets to make cancers more sensitive to existing chemotherapeutics;and to further examine the unique potential of using checkpoint inhibition to reduce UV-induced skin cancer.
In Aim 1 we will determine the general mechanistic class to which the novel compounds belong as inhibitors of Chk1 phosphorylation and hypothesize that studying these inhibitors isolated through an unbiased chemical genetic screen will provide new mechanistic insights on the DNA damage response.
In Aim 2 we will test the hypothesis that the identified compounds will act as chemosensitizers in vitro and in vivo when combined with DNA-damaging agents.
In Aim 3 we will test the hypothesis that checkpoint inhibition will be therapeutically useful to eliminate UV-damaged cells and prevent UV-induced skin cancers. We thus propose to extend our work from the prior funding period to further develop the rational biological basis and practical means to selectively target malignant cells to established therapies.

Public Health Relevance

Many cancers are resistant to existing chemotherapeutic agents and finding rational means to selectively sensitize cancers is a high priority. We propose to address this challenge by characterizing four novel compounds that sensitize cells to DNA damage and that were discovered through an unbiased chemical genetic screen. We have also found that DNA damage checkpoint inhibition eliminates pre-malignant cells that later progress toward skin cancer, the most common type of cancer. We will determine which checkpoint inhibitor(s) are most promising in diminishing UV-induced carcinogenesis.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Basic Mechanisms of Cancer Therapeutics Study Section (BMCT)
Program Officer
Baker, Carl
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Washington
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Calses, Philamer C; Dhillon, Kiranjit K; Tucker, Nyka et al. (2017) DGCR8 Mediates Repair of UV-Induced DNA Damage Independently of RNA Processing. Cell Rep 19:162-174
Kawasumi, Masaoki; Bradner, James E; Tolliday, Nicola et al. (2014) Identification of ATR-Chk1 pathway inhibitors that selectively target p53-deficient cells without directly suppressing ATR catalytic activity. Cancer Res 74:7534-45
Conney, Allan H; Lu, Yao-Ping; Lou, You-Rong et al. (2013) Mechanisms of Caffeine-Induced Inhibition of UVB Carcinogenesis. Front Oncol 3:144
Conney, Allan H; Lou, You-Rong; Nghiem, Paul et al. (2013) Inhibition of UVB-induced nonmelanoma skin cancer: a path from tea to caffeine to exercise to decreased tissue fat. Top Curr Chem 329:61-72
Lu, Yao-Ping; Lou, You-Rong; Peng, Qing-Yun et al. (2011) Caffeine decreases phospho-Chk1 (Ser317) and increases mitotic cells with cyclin B1 and caspase 3 in tumors from UVB-treated mice. Cancer Prev Res (Phila) 4:1118-25
Kawasumi, Masaoki; Lemos, Bianca; Bradner, James E et al. (2011) Protection from UV-induced skin carcinogenesis by genetic inhibition of the ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR) kinase. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:13716-21
Huryn, Donna M; Brodsky, Jeffrey L; Brummond, Kay M et al. (2011) Chemical methodology as a source of small-molecule checkpoint inhibitors and heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70) modulators. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 108:6757-62
Heffernan, Timothy P; Kawasumi, Masaoki; Blasina, Alessandra et al. (2009) ATR-Chk1 pathway inhibition promotes apoptosis after UV treatment in primary human keratinocytes: potential basis for the UV protective effects of caffeine. J Invest Dermatol 129:1805-15
Lu, Yao-Ping; Lou, You-Rong; Peng, Qing-Yun et al. (2008) Effect of caffeine on the ATR/Chk1 pathway in the epidermis of UVB-irradiated mice. Cancer Res 68:2523-9
Kawasumi, Masaoki; Nghiem, Paul (2007) Chemical genetics: elucidating biological systems with small-molecule compounds. J Invest Dermatol 127:1577-84

Showing the most recent 10 out of 11 publications