Glioblastoma is the most common primary brain tumor and remains uniformly fatal, highlighting the dire need for developing effective therapeutics. Significant intra- and inter-tumor heterogeneity and inadequate delivery of therapeutics across blood-brain barrier continue to be significant impediments towards developing therapies which can significantly enhance survival. We hypothesize that microRNAs have the potential to serve as effective therapeutics for glioblastoma as they modulate the activity of multiple signaling pathways, and hence can counteract heterogeneity if successfully delivered.
Using a computational approach, we identified microRNA-34a as a microRNA that maximally reduces the activation status of the three core signaling networks (the receptor tyrosine kinase, p53 and Rb networks) that have been found to be deregulated in most glioblastoma tumors. Glioblastoma cultures were transfected with microRNA-34a or control microRNA to assess biological function and therapeutic potential in vitro. Nanocells were derived from genetically modified bacteria and loaded with microRNA-34a for intravenous administration to orthotopic patient-derived glioblastoma xenografts in mice.
Overexpression of microRNA-34a strongly reduced the activation status of the three core signaling networks. microRNA-34a transfection also inhibited the survival of multiple established glioblastoma cell lines, as well as primary patient-derived xenograft cultures representing the proneural, mesenchymal and classical subtypes. Transfection of microRNA-34a enhanced temozolomide (TMZ) response in in vitro cultures of glioblastoma cells with primary TMZ sensitivity, primary TMZ resistance and acquired TMZ resistance. Mechanistically, microRNA-34a downregulated multiple therapeutic resistance genes which are associated with worse survival in glioblastoma patients and are enriched in specific tumor spatial compartments. Importantly, intravenous administration of nanocells carrying miR-34a and targeted to epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) strongly enhanced TMZ sensitivity in an orthotopic patient-derived xenograft mouse model of glioblastoma.
Targeted bacterially-derived nanocells are an effective vehicle for the delivery of microRNA-34a to glioblastoma tumors. microRNA-34a inhibits survival and strongly sensitizes a wide range of glioblastoma cell cultures to TMZ, suggesting that combination therapy of TMZ with microRNA-34a loaded nanocells may serve as a novel therapeutic approach for the treatment of glioblastoma tumors.