the St. Baldrick's Foundation
the American Institute for Cancer Research
UNC University Cancer Research Fund
ARTICLE ABSTRACTWhile treatments that induce DNA damage are commonly used as anticancer therapies, the mechanisms through which DNA damage produces a therapeutic response are incompletely understood. Here we have tested whether medulloblastomas must be competent for apoptosis to be sensitive to radiotherapy. Whether apoptosis is required for radiation sensitivity has been controversial. Medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children, is a biologically heterogeneous set of tumors typically sensitive to radiation and chemotherapy; 80% of medulloblastoma patients survive long-term after treatment. We used functional genetic studies to determine whether the intrinsic apoptotic pathway is required for radiation to produce a therapeutic response in mice with primary, Shh-driven medulloblastoma. We found that cranial radiation extended the survival of medulloblastoma-bearing mice and induced widespread apoptosis. Expression analysis and conditional deletion studies showed that Trp53 (p53) was the predominant transcriptional regulator activated by radiation and was strictly required for treatment response. Deletion of Bax, which blocked apoptosis downstream of p53, was sufficient to render tumors radiation resistant. In apoptosis-incompetent, Bax-deleted tumors, radiation activated p53-dependent transcription without provoking cell death and caused two discrete populations to emerge. Most radiated tumor cells underwent terminal differentiation. Perivascular cells, however, quickly resumed proliferation despite p53 activation, behaved as stem cells, and rapidly drove recurrence. These data show that radiation must induce apoptosis in tumor stem cells to be effective. Mutations that disable the intrinsic apoptotic pathways are sufficient to impart radiation resistance. We suggest that medulloblastomas are typically sensitive to DNA-damaging therapies, because they retain apoptosis competence. Cancer Res; 76(11); 3211–23. ©2016 AACR.