Ewsr1-wt1 target genes and therapeutic options identified in a novel dsrct in vitro model

Margit Bleijs, Corine Pleijte, Sem Engels, Femke Ringnalda, Friederike Meyer-Wentrup, Marc van de Wetering and Hans Clevers

Published: December-1 2021


Desmoplastic small round cell tumor (DSRCT) is a rare and aggressive soft tissue sarcoma with a lack of effective treatment options and a poor prognosis. DSRCT is characterized by a chromosomal translocation, resulting in the EWSR1-WT1 gene fusion. The molecular mechanisms driving DSRCT are poorly understood, and a paucity of preclinical models hampers DSRCT research. Here, we establish a novel primary patient-derived DSRCT in vitro model, recapitulating the original tumor. We find that EWSR1-WT1 expression affects cell shape and cell survival, and we identify downstream target genes of the EWSR1-WT1 fusion. Additionally, this preclinical in vitro model allows for medium-throughput drug screening. We discover sensitivity to several drugs, including compounds targeting RTKs. MERTK, which has been described as a therapeutic target for several malignancies, correlates with EWSR1-WT1 expression. Inhibition of MERTK with the small-molecule inhibitor UNC2025 results in reduced proliferation of DSRCT cells in vitro, suggesting MERTK as a therapeutic target in DSRCT. This study underscores the usefulness of preclinical in vitro models for studying molecular mechanisms and potential therapeutic options.

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