Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) are frequently driven by auto-activated, mutant KIT and have durable response to KIT tyrosine kinase inhibitor. However, acquired resistance is an increasing clinical issue in GIST patients receiving front-line imatinib therapy. Our previous studies showed the colocalization of KIT with DAPI-stained nuclei in GIST cells without knowing the role of nuclear KIT in GIST tumorigenesis. In this article, we first identified the binding of nuclear KIT to the promoter of NFKB inhibitor beta (NFKBIB) by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) sequencing and ChIP assays, which was accompanied with enhanced NFKBIB protein expression in GIST cells. Clinically, high NCCN risk GISTs had significantly higher mean expression levels of nuclear phospho-KIT and NFKBIB as compared with those of intermediate or low/very low-risk GISTs. Conversely, downregulation of NFKBIB by siRNA led to RELA nuclear translocation that could bind to the KIT promoter region and subsequently reduced KIT transcription/expression and the viability of GIST cells. These findings were further confirmed by either RELA overexpression or NFKB/RELA inducer, valproic acid, treatment to result in reduced KIT expression and relative cell viability of imatinib-resistant GIST cells. Combining valproic acid with imatinib showed significantly better growth inhibitory effects on imatinib-resistant GIST48 and GIST430 cells in vitro, and in the GIST430 animal xenograft model. Taken together, these results demonstrate the existence of a nuclear KIT-driven NFKBIB-RELA-KIT autoregulatory loop in GIST tumorigenesis, which are potential targets for developing combination therapy to overcome imatinib-resistant of KIT-expressing GISTs.
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