Small-cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a highly aggressive disease that exhibits rapid growth and genetic instability. We found earlier frequent overexpression of the miR-17-92 microRNA cluster, and showed that SCLC cells were addicted to continued expressions of miR-17-5p and miR-20a, major components of this microRNA cluster. In this study, we identified the frequent presence of constitutively phosphorylated H2AX (γ-H2AX), which reflects continuing DNA damage, preferentially in SCLC. Knockdown of RB induced γ-H2AX foci formation in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells with wild-type RB, in association with growth inhibition and reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation, which was canceled by overexpression of miR-17-92. Conversely, induction of γ-H2AX was observed in a miR-17-92-overexpressing SCLC cell line with miR-20a antisense oligonucleotides. These findings suggest that miR-17-92 overexpression may serve as a fine-tuning influence to counterbalance the generation of DNA damage in RB-inactivated SCLC cells, thus reducing excessive DNA damage to a tolerable level and consequently leading to genetic instability. Therefore, miR-17-92 may be an excellent therapeutic target candidate to elicit excessive DNA damage in combination with DNA-damaging chemotherapeutics.
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