“The transcription factor NFκB drives neoplastic progression of many cancers including primary brain tumors (glioblastoma; GBM). Precise therapeutic modulation of NFκB activity can suppress central oncogenic signalling pathways in GBM, but clinically applicable compounds to achieve this goal have remained elusive.
Methods: In a pharmacogenomics study with a panel of transgenic glioma cells we observed that NFκB can be converted into a tumor suppressor by the non-psychotropic cannabinoid Cannabidiol (CBD). Subsequently, we investigated the anti-tumor effects of CBD, which is used as an anticonvulsive drug (Epidiolex) in pediatric neurology, in a larger set of human primary GBM stem-like cells (hGSC). For this study we performed pharmacological assays, gene expression profiling, biochemical and cell-biological experiments. We validated our findings using orthotopic in vivo models and bioinformatics analysis of human GBM-datasets.
Results: We found that CBD promotes DNA binding of the NFκB subunit RELA and simultaneously prevents RELA-phosphorylation on serine-311, a key residue which permits genetic transactivation. Strikingly, sustained DNA binding by RELA lacking phospho-serine 311 was found to mediate hGSC cytotoxicity. Widespread sensitivity to CBD was observed in a cohort of hGSC defined by low levels of reactive oxygen-species (ROS), while high ROS-content in other tumors blocked CBD induced hGSC death. Consequently, ROS levels served as predictive biomarker for CBD-sensitive tumors.
Conclusions: This evidence demonstrates how a clinically approved drug can convert NFκB into a tumor suppressor and suggests a promising repurposing option for GBM-therapy.”