Signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) is both a signaling molecule and a transcription factor, while the mammalian homolog of Kirsten RAS (KRAS) is a signal relaying GTP-binding protein, however, both have been popular yet elusive targets in the world of cancer therapy. Traditional chemotherapies alone are often insufficient and can result in significant toxicities, rendering many human malignancies difficult to treat, including pancreatic cancers, triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC), glioblastomas, and sarcomas [1
]. In addition, new targeted therapies can often become ineffective eventually, due to the development of drug resistance in cancer cells, often linked to the blockade of key signaling pathways [4
]. Oncogenic mutations, loss of tumor suppressor genes, overexpression of normal proteins, or some combination of these events also contribute to drug resistance [5
]. Janus kinase (JAK)/STAT pathway is a key modulator of cellular growth, differentiation, and inflammatory response [7
]. Elevated phosphorylated STAT3 (pSTAT3) was associated with a poor prognosis of solid tumors [10
]. Activated STAT3 forms homodimers and translocate to the nucleus, where it binds DNA to initiate the transcription of target genes associated with cellular growth, proliferation, anti-apoptosis, angiogenesis, immunosuppression, and invasion/migration [9
]. Due to its central role in tumor processes, STAT3 has been considered a potential anticancer target since its first description as an oncogene in 1998 and has led to the evaluation of STAT3 inhibitors for their antitumor activity in vitro and in vivo using experimental tumor models [11
]. However, most of these inhibitors are yet to be translated to clinical use for cancer treatment, primarily due to pharmacokinetics, efficacy, and safety obstacles. KRAS mutations have been shown to be the driver mutation for ~25% of human cancers, while most frequently present in pancreatic (98%) and colorectal (53%) cancers [12
]. The mutant form retains GTP without hydrolyzing it, thereby becoming constitutively active. Many have focused on developing small molecule targets for the KRAS mutant for decades. However, problems in detecting binding pockets for these small molecules to bind KRAS have rendered this a nearly impossible task, and thus far only an anti-KRAS(G12C) inhibitory small molecule drug has been approved. Recently, cyclic peptides binding to a shallow cleft near the Switch II region comprising of two alpha helices and a central beta strand have been described [13
Cancer cells utilize pSTAT3 as an escape mechanism to become resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy [14
]. Inhibiting STAT3 with small molecule inhibitors not only suppresses cancer growth, activates apoptosis, and inhibits angiogenesis, but it also has been shown to remodel the stroma of pancreatic cancers [16
]. Inhibiting STAT3 in human patients during Phase 1 studies has demonstrated this to be a safe and well-tolerated approach [17
]. Studies have focused on identifying novel small molecule inhibitors of STAT3, which act either by inhibiting phosphorylation of STAT3, DNA binding, or the formation of functional STAT3 dimers. However, direct usage of a cell penetrating anti-STAT3 antibody has not been successful due to size limited difficulties in cellular penetration of the antibodies [18
]. An earlier dogma has forwarded the idea that nanobodies (VHH) do not freely cross cell membranes [19
A significant fraction, about 40%, of camelid antibodies is comprised of only two heavy chain immunoglobulins with one variable domain (VHH) per heavy chain. Camelid VHHs have been used to target multiple extracellular targets (e.g., IL-6 receptor, IL-17, TNF-α, VWF, and others), and several VHHs are in various stages of human clinical trials (Phases II and III) [19
], with no major side effects or toxicity reported. One VHH, Caplacizumab, has been approved by FDA and has been successfully commercialized for treating adult-acquired thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura [20
]. In this report, we describe our VHH SBT-100′s capabilities to penetrate cell membranes and bind to STAT3; additionally, it has the ability to cross-react with KRAS (mutated and unmutated forms), acting as a bi-specific antibody, with nM binding affinity. We further provide evidence for the utility of SBT-100 as an anti-cancer drug by showing that SBT-100: (1) crosses the cell membrane and binds to intracellular STAT3, (2) inhibits phosphorylation of STAT3, (3) decreases total STAT3, (4) blocks IL-6 mediated translocation of activated STAT3 into the nucleus, which prevents pSTAT3 dimers from binding to its target genes, (5) inhibits expression of VEGF, (6) inhibits cell surface expression of checkpoint inhibitor PD-L1 on the tumor cell surface, (7) inhibits KRAS-GTPase activity and downstream ERK phosphorylation, (8) exhibit wide-ranging anti-tumor cell growth in vitro, and (9) induce tumor suppression in athymic xenograft mouse models for triple-negative breast cancer cell line with KRAS(G13D) mutation (MDA-MB-231) and a pancreatic cancer cell line with KRAS(G12D) mutation (PANC-1), without any observable toxicity. Additionally, the biological effects of SBT-100 last between 72 h in vitro and 7 days in vivo. To the best of our knowledge, no other group has described an unmodified cell penetrating VHH that gives a therapeutic effect in cancer. SBT-100 is a novel VHH that penetrates the cell membrane to give a therapeutic effect against human cancers, thus representing a significant clinical potential. This unique property of SBT-100 and the mechanism of action of cell penetration is under investigation.
Despite the short half-life of VHHs in serum, camelid VHHs are increasingly considered for clinical use due to their ability to target antigens residing in tissues that are poorly vascularized and not easily accessible. In addition, it is stable at room temperature and in reducing the cytoplasmic environment [19
]. Here we have described a unique first-in-class VHH, SBT-100 with cell-penetrating capability, that can bind to two different non-homologous intracellular targets (STAT3 and KRAS) implicated in tumorigenesis. In our binding studies, SBT-100 binds STAT3 and KRAS but not 12-lipoxygenase. Indeed, a more exhaustive panel of proteins in the same binding study will help further determine if SBT-100 is truly bi-specific and not polyreactive. The serum half-life of SBT-100 is 1 h (data not shown) and this is consistent with the literature. If SBT-100 was polyreactive, then its serum half-life would likely be much longer because it would bind to random serum proteins with high affinity. We demonstrated that SBT-100 (1) crosses the cell membrane and binds to intracellular STAT3, (2) inhibits phosphorylation of STAT3, (3) decreases total STAT3, (4) blocks IL-6 mediated translocation of activated STAT3 into the nucleus, to prevent pSTAT3 dimers from binding to its target genes, (5) inhibits expression of VEGF, a key angiogenic factor and known modulator of tumor cells, (6) inhibits cell surface expression of checkpoint inhibitor PD-L1 on the tumor cell surface, which may improve antitumor immunity in immune-competent mice, (7) inhibits KRAS-GTPase activity and downstream ERK phosphorylation to inhibit cell growth, (8) exhibits wide-ranging anti-tumor cell growth in vitro against eleven human cancers, and (9) induces tumor (human cancers with activating KRAS mutations) regression in athymic xenograft mouse models for triple-negative breast cancer cell line (MDA-MB-231) and for pancreatic cancer (PANC-1), without any observable toxicity. The biological effects of SBT-100 are reversible, lasting at least 72 h in vitro and 7 days in vivo. SBT-100 also appears unique in its ability to penetrate BBB. The ability of SBT-100 to penetrate the cell membrane and bind intracellular KRAS and STAT3 translates into functional suppression of cancer growth and proliferation in vitro and in vivo. This was demonstrated with multiple human cancers to show the broad application of SBT-100 inhibiting human cancers.
SBT-100 rapidly crosses the cell membrane in vitro in less than six hours (Figure 1
), and in vivo, it crosses the BBB in less than fifteen minutes (Figure 8
). If SBT-100 is polyreactive, then it would likely bind cell surface proteins non-specifically and aggregate at the cell surface. This is not observed (Figure 1
, Figure 2
, Figure 3
B–E and Figure 5
A–F). It would then enter the cell via endocytosis and become part of the lysosomal pathway and become degraded, losing its efficacy. This was not observed. Upon entering the cell, SBT-100 binds non-covalently to KRAS and STAT3 with nanomolar affinity (Table 1
). Unlike small molecule inhibitors which form irreversible covalent bonds [27
], SBT-100 is less likely to create toxicity due to non-covalent reversible binding to KRAS and STAT3. Our hypothesis is that SBT-100 passes through all cells non-specifically and in adult mice and humans STAT3 is not actively produced in most tissues as found in the fibrosis literature (e.g., human skin and lung biopsies from healthy people reveal no STAT3). In these normal tissues where there is very little or no activated STAT3, SBT-100 simply passes in and out of these cells; however, in cancer cells where there is hyperexpression of pSTAT3, SBT-100, upon entering these cells, binds to the pSTAT3 with nanomolar affinity and becomes sequestered. Within 1 h, 50% of the SBT-100 has been excreted into the urine of the mice, so that any potential toxicity in some normal cells, which have tightly regulated pSTAT3 such as myeloid cells, is minimized. We have treated at IITRI close to 200 xenograft mice with SBT-100 for 14 consecutive days or 21 consecutive days and have had no deaths and no weight loss in any treated mice. At the NIH, our collaborators had a similar experience (35). We hope to begin GLP toxicology studies in rats and dogs. This will provide more rigorous data on the potential toxicity of SBT-100.
The blocking of the GTPase activity of KRAS (Figure 6
A) and subsequent decreases in the levels of pERK1/2 (Figure 6
B) inhibits the ability of the KRAS pathway to promote cell proliferation, survival, and escape apoptosis. Concurrently, SBT-100 also binds to STAT3 which causes inhibition of STAT3 phosphorylation (Figure 3
, Figure 5
and Figure 6
), the inability of STAT3 to translocate into the nucleus, and prevent STAT3 from binding to its DNA promotor (Figure 5
G). A powerful example of SBT-100′s inhibitory and anti-inflammatory ability is also demonstrated by its ability to block the effect of IL-6 on cancer cells and normal cells in vitro (Figure 5
) by preventing STAT3 from transcribing target genes in the nucleus such as VEGF and PD-L1. We are aware of the fact that SBT-100 may bind both molecules or preferentially to one depending on the local concentrations of KRAS and STAT3. We do not know the structural aspects of SBT-100 binding to these proteins. Such non-homologous protein cross-reactivities have been observed among allergens binding to IgE antibodies [28
At this time, we can only speculate as to how SBT-100 penetrates live cells to cause therapeutic effects. Herce and Garcia proposed that a direct translocation of cationic proteins by positively charged amino acids interacting with negatively charged phosphate groups of the cell membrane form transient pores using HIV-1 TAT cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) [29
]. Li et al. [30
] speculated that a similar phenomenon may be at work for Glial fibrillar acidic protein (GFAP) nanobody E9, in the crossing of BBB and intracellular penetration and further claimed that their monomeric VHH not only acted as a CPP but also specifically bound to intracellular antigen both in vitro and in vivo [30
]. They also observed an association between size and cellular penetration. While a smaller quantity of VHHs crossed BBB in vitro, monomer uptake was greater than that of dimer VHH (7.8% vs. 4.3%). Based on the E9 VHH sequence (sdAb-DB Accession Number: sdAb_0207_Vp) published on the single-domain antibody database (http://www.sdab-db.ca
(accessed on 8 August 2020)) [31
], the sequence-based theoretical pI for E9 is 8.7 (their experimentally calibrated pI was 9.4) with a net charge of +2.2 at physiological pH of 7.4 whereas for HIV-1 TAT peptide, a prototypical widely used CPP, the pI is 12.5 with a charge of +6.2 and for SBT-100 the pI is 8.2 with a net charge of +2.3 at pH 7.4, suggesting biochemical similarities may exist between cell-penetrating camelid nanobodies. This also suggests a superior capability for TAT peptides to transport molecules across the cell membrane compared to that of camelid nanobodies.
VEGF plays a critical role in tumor growth and metastasis by producing the development of new blood vessels. SBT-100 significantly reduces the production of VEGF by retinal epithelial cells in vitro as rapidly as 12 h, and the biological effect of a single administration lasts at least 48 h (Figure 5
H). This suggests SBT-100 may reduce anti-tumor effects in cancer and may reduce blindness in neovascular conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In an in vivo model for blindness, SBT-100 has been shown to give a significant improvement in vision (data not shown). Other gene targets for STAT3 are PD-1 and PD-L1 [32
]. Here using IFA, we demonstrate that SBT-100 decreases PD-L1 expression on TNBC (MDA-MB-231) within 24 h (Figure 3
). Similar results were obtained for osteosarcoma (SJSA-1) where FACS analysis showed SBT-100 decreased PD-L1 expression within 48 h (Figure 3
). We believe this represents a new approach to immunotherapy by downregulating a checkpoint inhibitor gene. This strategy of using SBT-100 may decrease the number of PD-L1 and possibly PD-1 molecules via decreasing STAT3 availability so there are fewer cell surface targets for nivolumab and pembrolizumab to block. This then may augment the checkpoint inhibitor response or enable reductions in the dosage of checkpoint inhibitors. Since STAT3 is a pro-inflammatory mediator, STAT3 inhibition by SBT-100 may also decrease some of the inflammatory complications associated with checkpoint inhibitor therapy such as pneumonitis [34
] and severe COVID-19 pathology.
The therapeutic potential for SBT-100 in vivo has been demonstrated here as monotherapy, we have confirmed the efficacy in the form of tumor regression in athymic nude mouse xenograft with TNBC tumors with KRAS(G13D) mutation (at least 50–100 mm3
). The therapeutic effect of SBT-100 persisted for at least seven days after the last dose. Similarly, SBT-100 augmented the suppression of tumor growth when combined with gemcitabine. PANC-1 is known to be difficult to treat malignancy since it is KRAS-independent [24
]. These experiments suggest that SBT-100 alone or in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents cause significant tumor growth suppression in vivo.
While cell penetration by SBT-100 and anti-cancer clinical activities are exciting, the therapeutic effects of SBT-100 on ocular inflammatory diseases such as uveitis have also been validated by collaborators at the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Briefly, Mbanefo et al. [35
] used an experimental autoimmune uveitis (EAU) model which is the model for human uveitis to demonstrate that SBT-100 was efficacious and safe in treating the autoimmune attack of the retina. Their results demonstrated that SBT-100 crosses the blood neuroretina barrier and downregulates the generation of pSTAT3, decreases autoimmune Th1 and Th17 cells significantly, and reduces serum levels of IL-17A, IFN-γ, GM-CSF, and IL1-α. The group treated with SBT-100 showed minimal damage to the retina, preservation of the optic disc, normal histology, minimal infiltration of immune cells around the retina, and preservation of electrical conduction by the retina when compared to the control group.
Unlike conventional monoclonal antibodies which mostly recognize flat and convex antigenic surfaces, the CDR3 loop of VHHs is longer than conventional VH, which allows its extended paratope binding to non-conventional epitopes such as concave-shaped protein clefts such as enzyme active sites [22
]. Although structural data on binding has yet to be carried out, it is theoretically feasible that SBT-100 binds to a shallow cleft described for KRAS by electrostatic interactions [13
], or yet an undetermined cleft in KRAS. Thus, our SBT-100 appears unique in its ability to penetrate the cell and blood-brain barrier (BBB) along with its binding to STAT3 and KRAS. One potential concern is whether SBT-100 is immunogenic. As with any foreign protein, the risk of immunogenicity exists. Our 14-day treatment with SBT-100 is too short to detect any loss of efficacy due to immunogenicity. A full 28-day GLP toxicology study with immunogenicity testing will help give better information about this question. Fortunately, camelid VHHs, like SBT-100, are 90% or greater in homology with human VH proteins which should reduce the risk for immunogenicity. Since SBT-100 has a very short serum half-life and stays within the intracellular space of cancer cells, these two facts may further reduce its immunogenic potential. In addition, intracellular delivery of SBT-100 may induce anti-SBT-100 immunity in immunocompetent hosts. This may initially help promote anti-tumor immunity but in time this immunogenicity may reduce SBT-100′s efficacy. Further studies to determine this are warranted.
Mechanistically, the inhibitory action of SBT-100 likely involves steric hindrance created after binding of this agent to STAT3 and KRAS. Identification of epitope(s) on STAT3 and KRAS as seen by SBT-100, in vitro competitive binding, and structural aspects of binding between SBT-100 and its targets still need to be elucidated. The dual inhibitory property of SBT-100 may help to reduce the chance of cancer resistance from developing when used. It has been described that there exists an inverse correlation between STAT3 and MEK signaling which mediates resistance to RAS pathway inhibition in pancreatic cancer [36
]. Thus, SBT-100 is a “First-in-Class” anticancer agent for targeting STAT3 and KRAS simultaneously in cancers and provides proof of concept for this novel approach to treating cancer and other diseases by focusing on aberrant intracellular targets. Further investigation into pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic studies are warranted.
4. Material and Methods
4.1. SBT-100 Development
Recombinant full-length human STAT3 with a GST tag fused to its N-terminal (STAT3-1496H) was provided by Creative BioMart (Shirley, NY, USA). Briefly, a camel (Camelus bactrianus
) was used for immunization with the recombinant human STAT3. Generating SBT-100 VHH: A Camelid was immunized with the relevant antigen. After the immunization period, peripheral white blood cells (PWBC) were collected, and a phage display library was created to look for the VHH of interest. Once the panning process was completed, VHHs were identified by their binding affinity to STAT3 and KRAS. The process used is described in greater detail in our previous publication [37
]. The final endotoxin levels were <1 EU/mg.
4.2. Cell Lines and Cell Culture
Cell lines: PANC-1, BxPC3, MDA-MB-231, MDA-MB-468, MDA-MB-453, MCF-7, BT474, U87, SJSA-1, HT-1080, HEp2, DU-145 and retinal epithelial cells (ARPE-19) were all obtained from American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) (Manassas, VA, USA). All cells were grown at 37 °C in 5% CO2 in either DMEM or RPMI media with or without fetal bovine serum.
4.3. Immunofluorescence and Immunohistochemical Staining
Standard procedures were used for immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence assay (IFA) staining. Primary antibodies for IFA were: Anti-t-STAT3: (Cat No. 30835, Cell Signaling Technology, Danvers, MA, USA), Anti-p-STAT3: (Cat No. 9145, Cell Signaling Technology), Anti-PD-L1: (Cat No. 13684, Cell Signaling Technology), Anti-VHH Antibody: (Cat. No. 200-401-GM6S, Rockland, Rockland, MA, USA), Alexa Fluor 488-Anti-rabbit IgG: (Jackson ImmunoResearch, West Grove, PA, USA, Cat. No. 711-545-152), rabbit polyclonal anti-GST: (Thermo Fisher #71-7500, Waltham, MA, USA). The blocking solution, 1° and 2° antibody diluent were 1% BP: (1% BSA in PBS). All cell incubations were at 37 °C in a 5% CO2
incubator in media. 4500 cells/well were seeded in chamber slides and allowed to adhere overnight. Cells were treated with SBT-100 at various timepoints and then fixed in 100% methanol at −20 °C. For IFA staining, slides were blocked for ≥30 min with 1% BP, the blocking agent removed, and 1° antibodies were added at the following dilutions prior to overnight incubation at 5 °C: anti-VHH = 1:500, anti-t-STAT3 = 1:300, anti-p-STAT3 = 1:125, anti-PD-L1 = 1:300. Wells were washed with PBS and incubated with Alexa Flour labeled anti-rabbit IgG conjugate (1:300) for ≥1 h prior to washing with PBS, slides were cover slipped and examined by fluorescent microscopy. For DAPI staining, wells were incubated for 7min with 0.143 mM DAPI and washed with PBS prior to the application of a coverslip. Traditional fluorescence microscopy was performed using the Nikon 80i microscope and the appropriate wavelength filter. Images were captured using the attached Spot RT3 camera (Cat. No. WS-RT2540-0484, Spot Market Webstore, Sterling Heights, MI, USA, https://webstore.diaginc.com/
) model 25.4, 2Mp slider and the associated Spot 5.1 software.
4.4. Confocal Microscopy
The confocal images were obtained using the Leica TCS SP8 confocal microscope with the expert assistance of Wade Sigurdson, Ph.D., Director of the Confocal Microscopy and Flow Cytometry Facility at the University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA. Images were quantified using Fiji software.
4.5. IHC Staining for Intra-Tumor and BBB Methodology
Athymic nude mice (n = 3) with established MDA-MB-231 tumors were injected IP with SBT-100 (1 mg/kg). Fifteen minutes later the mice were sacrificed, and their brains and tumors were harvested. The tissues were placed into 10% formalin for 24 h, and then transferred to 70% ethanol. These tissues were cut into sections with a dermatome (AML Laboratories, Baltimore, MD, USA). Goat anti-Ilama conjugated (Bethyl Laboratories, Cat. # A160-100P, Montgomery, TX, USA) secondary antibody (1:10,000) was incubated with these tissue sections for 10 min at room temperature, washed twice for 3 min with PBS-Tween 20. Incubation in streptavidin/peroxidase complex of the tissue sections was done for 5 min at room temperature, and then washed for 5 min with PBS. Next, the tissue sections were incubated with peroxidase substrate solution (AEC) for 15 min, washed in tap water for 5 min, counterstained with Hematoxylin QS (one drop on each section), and incubated for 30 s. Tissue sections were then rinsed with tap water until the water became colorless. The sections were mounted in aqueous mounting media, and 15 min later these slides were viewed on the Olympus BX51 Fluorescence Microscope.
4.6. Western Blot (Slot Blot)
Standard procedures were used for immunoblotting. Primary antibodies were: Anti-β-actin: (Cat. No. 4970, Cell Signaling Technology), Anti-t-STAT3: (Cat. No. 30835, Cell Signaling Technology) Anti-p-STAT3: (Cat. No. 9145, Cell Signaling Technology), Anti-PD-L1: (Cat. No. 13684, Cell Signaling Technology), HRP-Anti-rabbit IgG: (Cat. No. 711-035-152, Jackson ImmunoResearch). Blocking buffer, primary, and secondary antibody diluent 5% BT: (5% BSA in TBS) TBS (Tris Buffered Saline25 mM Tris, 150mM NaCl, pH 7.5) TBST (TBS + 0.1% Tween-20). Briefly, 2 × 105 MDA-MB-231 cells/well were seeded in each well of a 6-well plate and allowed to adhere overnight at 37 °C in a 5% CO2 incubator in media. Media was removed and SBT-100 in media was added. Following incubation for the indicated times, media was removed, the adherent monolayer of cells was washed with ice-cold PBS and then lysis of the cells was performed by scraping the cells in TBS + 0.05% SDS with added EDTA, protease inhibitors, and phosphatase inhibitors. At later times of treatment where non-adherent cells were apparent, these cells were collected by centrifugation, lysis was performed, and combined with the lysate of the adherent cell population.
4.7. Quantification of Western Blot
Protein concentration of each fraction was determined using the BCA protein assay (Cat No. 23227, ThermoFisher Scientific). Equal amounts of protein from each of the cell fractions (typically ~10 μg/slot) were diluted to 200 μL/slot with TBS and loaded via a slot blot apparatus onto a PVDF membrane that had been previously activated in 100% methanol and then equilibrated in TBS. Blots were blocked for ≥1 h in 5% BT and then incubated at 5 °C overnight in the following dilutions of antibodies: anti-β-actin 1:1000, anti-t-STAT3 1:1000, anti-p-STAT31:750, anti-PD-L1 1:1000. Blots were washed three times with TBST, briefly equilibrated into TBS and then incubated with HRP-anti-rabbit IgG (1:5000) for ≥1 h prior. The washing step was repeated and then the blots were incubated with the chemiluminescent HRP substrate according to the manufacturer’s protocol. The reactions were visualized using a chemi-imager. Quantification was performed using the ImageJ software contained within the Fiji image processing package.
4.8. IL-6 Stimulation and Inhibition of pSTAT3 Nuclear Translocation
The cells (HEp-2 and PANC-1) were grown on 4 Permanox chambers slides. SBT-100 antibody was added overnight (1 to 10 dilutions in media) and the slides were kept at 37 °C. No SBT-100 antibody was added to the negative control samples. The following day, cells were stimulated with IL-6 (Peprotech, Cranbury, NJ, USA, 100 ng/mL) for 15 min. After stimulation, the chamber slides were immediately fixed in ice-cold 100% methanol for 10 min at 20°C. The slides were dried and proceeded with the previously mentioned IFA steps. Slides were blocked with 3% BSA in PBS at room temperature for 1 h, then the primary antibody, STAT3 (124H6, Cell Signaling Technology) overnight at 4 °C. The secondary antibody anti-mouse IgG (H and L), Alexa Fluor 488 (Cell Signaling Technology) was added for 1 h at room temperature. Lastly, the chamber slides were washed and mounted with our mounting media and viewed in the Nikon Fluorescence microscope.
4.9. Promega Dual Luciferase Reporter Assay System (GTPase-Glo™ Assay)
In this assay, we utilized a HEK 293 IL-6 STAT3 reporter cell line (Cat. No. E1910 Promega, Madison, WI, USA) to measure STAT3 transcriptional activity. In this cell line, induction with 40 ng/mL of IL-6, activates STAT3 transcription factors to drive luciferase reporter expression which can then be measured on a standard luminometer. We incubated 105 cells/well with SBT-100 antibody or no antibody for 48 h. An 8-point, 2-fold titration, starting at 100 μg/mL was made to test the IC50 values. IL-6 was added during the last 18 h of incubation. All-time points are clocked from the addition of SBT-100 inhibitor. At 48 h, cells underwent lysis, and luminescence measurements were made using a BMG Labtech microplate reader. Results are expressed as a percent of control wells (cells + IL-6).
4.10. Human VEGF-A ELISA Assay
The human VEGF-A ELISA (Cat No. EHVEGF-AA, ThermoFisher Scientific) assay was modified to be performed in a 96-well plate format from a 24-well format. ARPE-19 cells were serum-starved in 10% FBS in DMEM and incubated overnight. The media was then replaced with media containing SBT-100 at 100, 10, 1, or 0.1 μg/mL, Anti-EMP2 antibody (Cat. No. ab174699, Abcam, Waltham, MA, USA), or just media and incubated for 12, 24, or 48 h. At the appropriate time point, the supernatant was removed and stored at −65 °C. Cells were lysed using RIPA lysis buffer (Cat No. 89900, ThermoFisher Scientific) and the protein content of the cell lysate was measured with a BCA assay (Cat No. 23227, ThermoFisher Scientific). VEGF-A was measured utilizing the Human VEGF-A ELISA Kit (Cat No. EHVEGF-AA, ThermoFisher Scientific) in accordance with the kit instructions. Experimental statistical analysis by ANOVA with Dunnett Multiple Comparisons Test using the negative control as the control column was performed. Statistical analysis by ANOVA with Dunnett Multiple Comparison Test using the negative control as the control was performed.
4.11. Flow Cytometry Analysis
SJSA-1 cells were incubated for 24 h with 50ng/mL recombinant human IFN-γ (Cat No. 300-02, Peprotech), then the media was replaced with media containing 50 μg/mL of SBT-100 and incubated for 48 h. Cells were then harvested and stained with the following antibodies: CD276 (Clone MIH-42, Biolegend Cat. No. 351005, San Diego, CA, USA), CD274 (Clone 29E.2A3, Biolegend Cat. No. 329713), and CD200 (Clone OX-104, Biolegend Cat. No. 329217). Upon staining, samples were run through a BD Celesta Flow Cytometer, and data were analyzed using FlowJo version 10.2 software (BD Biosciences, Ashland, OR, USA).
4.12. MTT Assay
For these experiments, cancer cells were grown until they reached a confluency of 90%. Cells were washed, trypsinized, and counted using a Coulter Counter (Beckman, Brea, CA, USA). The proliferation studies were carried out using the 3-[4,5-dimethylthialolyl]-2,5-diphenyl-tetrazolium bromide (MTT) assay (Roche Diagnostics Corporation, Cat. No. 11465007001, sold by Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO, USA). For this, cells were seeded in a 96-well plate at a density of 5 × 103.
Cells were allowed to adhere for 24 h and treated at the appropriate concentrations (serial dilutions beginning at 100 μg/mL) as described in Table 2
. On day 3, 10 μL of MTT reagent (0.5 mg/mL) was added to each well as indicated by the manufacturer. After a 4-h incubation period, 100 μL of solubilization solution was added and the plate was placed in the incubator overnight. All the plates were read at 570 nm wavelength using the Biotek plate reader (Winooski, VT, USA). All data were analyzed using GraphPad InStat3 (GraphPad Software, Inc., La Jolla, CA, USA). Treatment groups were compared with a vehicle control group using one-way ANOVA. If a significant difference (p
< 0.05) was observed, then the Tukey-Kramer multiple comparison test was conducted.
4.13. Measurement of KRAS Inhibition Activity in an Enzymatic Assay
The GTPase activity of KRAS converts GTP to GDP. A GTPase-Glo reagent kit (Kit No., V7681, Promega, Madison WI, USA) is designed to measure this activity. The Glo reagent converts unhydrolyzed GTP to ATP and yields a luminescent signal. When KRAS activity is inhibited, GTP remains unhydrolyzed and a high Luminescent signal is expected. If KRAS is not inhibited, then the GTP is converted to GDP and a low signal is observed. Luminescence was measured using a PHERAstar plate reader (BMG Labtech, Ortenberg, Germany). We tested the activity of mature, active KRAS (Cat. No. R106-310H, SignalChem, Richmond, BC, Canada) supplied in the manufacturer’s buffer against the presence of a dilution series of inhibitors. The commercial KRAS GTPase activity was titrated in Promega GTPase/GAP buffer and in SBT-100 buffer in presence of several inhibitors. The inhibition and the effect of buffer conditions on the GTPase activity of KRAS were compared.
All animals were housed under pathogen-free conditions and experiments were performed in accordance with the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IITRI) Animal Use and Care Committee (IACUC) which is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC). Athymic nude-Foxn1nu female mice aged 5 to 6 weeks were purchased from ENVIGO Laboratories (Indianapolis, IN, USA). Animals were quarantined for one week and housed five mice per cage, with a 12-h light-dark cycle, at 20–26 °C, and relative humidity of 50%. Drinking water and diet (PicoLab Rodent Diet 20 Irradiated consisting of 20% crude protein, 4.5% crude fat, and 6.0% crude fiber) were supplied to the animal’s ad libitum.
4.15. Murine Xenograft Models
Tumor cells in passage five were used for the implantation and were harvested during log-phase growth. PANC-1 cells or MDA-MB-231 cells at a concentration of 5 × 106 cells per 100 µL of media were injected subcutaneously into the right flank. Tumor measurements were initiated as soon as the tumors were palpable. Thereafter, tumors were measured twice weekly. Tumors were measured in two dimensions using calipers and volume was calculated using the formula: Tumor volume (mm3) = (w2 × l)/2; where w = width and l = length in mm of a tumor. Animals were randomized using the stratified random sampling algorithm when tumors reached a size range of 79–172 mm3 for PANC-1 tumors and 55–150 mm3 for the MDA-MB-231 tumors. Treatment of the animals with SBT-100 or vehicle-injected via intraperitoneal route was initiated the day following randomization referred to as day 1. Each group had at least four mice and was repeated on three separate occasions. Study Log Study Director Animal Study Management Software (San Francisco, CA, USA) was used to randomize animals, collect data (e.g., dosing, body weights, tumor measurements, clinical observations), and conduct data statistical analyses.
The statistical methods used have been described in the individual sections above. Flow Cytometer data were analyzed using FlowJo v.10.2 Software. Graph Pad Prism v.9.0.1. All statistical analyses are two sided. Western blot analysis quantification was performed using the ImageJ software contained within the Fiji image processing package. ELISA assay statistical analysis by ANOVA with Dunnett Multiple Comparison Test using the negative control as the control was performed. MTT assay treatment groups were compared with a vehicle control group using one-way ANOVA. If a significant difference (p < 0.05) was observed, then the Tukey-Kramer multiple comparison test was conducted. In all the mice xenograft studies, Study Log Study Director Animal Study Management Software (San Francisco, CA, USA) was used to conduct data statistical analyses.