AXL inhibition induces DNA damage and replication stress in non-small cell lung cancer cells and promotes sensitivity to ATR inhibitors

Kavya Ramkumar, C. Allison Stewart, Kasey R. Cargill, Carminia M. della Corte, Qi Wang, Li Shen, Lixia Diao, Robert J. Cardnell, David H. Peng, B. Leticia Rodriguez, You Hong Fan, John V. Heymach, Jing Wang, Carl M. Gay, Don L. Gibbons, Lauren A. Byers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


AXL, a TAM (TYRO3, AXL, and MERTK) family receptor tyrosine kinase, is increasingly being recognized as a key determinant of resistance to targeted therapies, as well as chemotherapy and radiation in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and other cancers. We further show here that high levels of AXL and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition were frequently expressed in subsets of both treatment-naïve and treatment-relapsed NSCLC. Previously, we and others have demonstrated a role for AXL in mediating DNA damage response (DDR), as well as resistance to inhibition of WEE1, a replication stress response kinase. Here, we show that BGB324 (bemcentinib), a selective small-molecule AXL inhibitor, caused DNA damage and induced replication stress, indicated by ATR/CHK1 phosphorylation, more significantly in TP53-deficient NSCLC cell lines. Similar effects were also observed in large-cell neuroendocrine carcinoma (LCNEC) cell lines. High AXL protein levels were also associated with resistance to ATR inhibition. Combined inhibition of AXL and ATR significantly decreased cell proliferation of NSCLC and LCNEC cell lines. Mechanistically, combined inhibition of AXL and ATR significantly increased RPA32 hyperphosphorylation and DNA double-strand breaks and induced markers of mitotic catastrophe. Notably, NSCLC cell lines with low levels of SLFN11, a known predictive biomarker for platinum and PARP inhibitor sensitivity, were more sensitive to AXL/ATR cotargeting. These findings demonstrate a novel and unexpected role for AXL in replication stress tolerance, with potential therapeutic implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-497
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Cancer Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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