CDK7 inhibition augments response to multidrug chemotherapy in pancreatic cancer

Siyuan Zeng, Bin Lan, Xiaofan Ren, Shuman Zhang, Daniel Schreyer, Markus Eckstein, Hai Yang, Nathalie Britzen-Laurent, Andreas Dahl, Debabrata Mukhopadhyay, David Chang, Isabella Kutschick, Susanne Pfeffer, Peter Bailey, Andrew Biankin, Robert Grützmann, Christian Pilarsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is an aggressive cancer with a dismal prognosis. Although combined treatment with gemcitabine and albumin-bound paclitaxel has improved the prognosis of PDAC, both intrinsic and acquired chemoresistance remain as severe hurtles towards improved prognosis. Thus, new therapeutic targets and innovative strategies are urgently needed. Methods: In this study, we used the KPC mouse model-derived PDAC cell line TB32047 to perform kinome-wide CRISPR-Cas9 loss-of-function screening. Next-generation sequencing and MAGeCK-VISPR analysis were performed to identify candidate genes. We then conducted cell viability, clonogenic, and apoptosis assays and evaluated the synergistic therapeutic effects of cyclin-dependent kinase 7 (CDK7) depletion or inhibition with gemcitabine (GEM) and paclitaxel (PTX) in a murine orthotopic pancreatic cancer model. For mechanistic studies, we performed genome enrichment analysis (GSEA) and Western blotting to identify and verify the pathways that render PDAC sensitive to GEM/PTX therapy. Results: We identified several cell cycle checkpoint kinases and DNA damage-related kinases as targets for overcoming chemoresistance. Among them, CDK7 ranked highly in both screenings. We demonstrated that both gene knockout and pharmacological inhibition of CDK7 by THZ1 result in cell cycle arrest, apoptosis induction, and DNA damage at least predominantly through the STAT3-MCL1-CHK1 axis. Furthermore, THZ1 synergized with GEM and PTX in vitro and in vivo, resulting in enhanced antitumor effects. Conclusions: Our findings support the application of CRISPR-Cas9 screening in identifying novel therapeutic targets and suggest new strategies for overcoming chemoresistance in pancreatic cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number241
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • CDK7
  • CRISPR-Cas9
  • Gemcitabine
  • Paclitaxel
  • THZ1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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