Ferroptosis is a specialized iron-dependent cell death that is associated with lethal lipid peroxidation. Modulation of ferroptosis may have therapeutic potential since it has been implicated in various human diseases as well as potential antitumor activities. However, much remains unknown about the underlying mechanisms and genetic determinants of ferroptosis. Given the critical role of kinases in most biological processes and the availability of various kinase inhibitors, we sought to systemically identify kinases essential for ferroptosis. We performed a forward genetic-based kinome screen against ferroptosis in MDA-MB-231 cells triggered by cystine deprivation. This screen identified 34 essential kinases involved in TNFα and NF-kB signaling. Unexpectedly, the DNA damage response serine/threonine kinase ATM (mutated in Ataxia-Telangiectasia) was found to be essential for ferroptosis. The pharmacological or genetic inhibition of ATM consistently rescued multiple cancer cells from ferroptosis triggered by cystine deprivation or erastin. Instead of the canonical DNA damage pathways, ATM inhibition rescued ferroptosis by increasing the expression of iron regulators involved in iron storage (ferritin heavy and light chain, FTH1 and FTL) and export (ferroportin, FPN1). The coordinated changes of these iron regulators during ATM inhibition resulted in a lowering of labile iron and prevented the iron-dependent ferroptosis. Furthermore, we found that ATM inhibition enhanced the nuclear translocation of metal-regulatory transcription factor 1 (MTF1), responsible for regulating expression of Ferritin/FPN1 and ferroptosis protection. Genetic depletion of MTF-1 abolished the regulation of iron-regulatory elements by ATM and resensitized the cells to ferroptosis. Together, we have identified an unexpected ATM-MTF1-Ferritin/FPN1 regulatory axis as novel determinants of ferroptosis through regulating labile iron levels.
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We appreciate the suggestions from members of Chi lab at Duke University and discussion with Dr. Stacey-Lynn Paiva at Yale University. This work was supported in part by DOD grants (W81XWH-17-1-0143, W81XWH-15-1-0486 to JTC), Duke Cancer Institute (DCI) Discovery fund and DCI pilot fund.
Conflict of interest
The authors have no conflicts of interests to declare.
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Edited by S. Fulda