Inhibition of G protein-coupled receptor kinase 2 promotes unbiased downregulation of IGF-1 receptor and restrains malignant cell growth

Caitrin Crudden, Takashi Shibano, Dawei Song, Mihnea P Dragomir, Sonia Cismas, Julianna Serly, Daniela Nedelcu, Enrique Fuentes-Mattei, Andrei Tica, George A Calin, Ada Girnita, Leonard Girnita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The ability of a receptor to preferentially activate only a subset of available downstream signal cascades is termed biased signaling. Although comprehensively recognized for the G protein–coupled receptors (GPCR), this process is scarcely explored downstream of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTK), including the cancer-relevant insulin-like growth factor-1 receptor (IGF1R). Successful IGF1R targeting requires receptor downregulation, yet therapy-mediated removal from the cell surface activates cancer-protective b-arrestin–biased signaling (b-arr-BS). As these overlapping processes are initiated by the b-arr/IGF1R interaction and controlled by GPCR-kinases (GRK), we explored GRKs as potential anticancer therapeutic targets to disconnect IGF1R downregulation and b-arr-BS. Transgenic modulation demonstrated that GRK2 inhibition or GRK6 overexpression enhanced degradation of IGF1R, but both scenarios sustained IGF1–induced b-arr-BS. Pharmacologic inhibition of GRK2 by the clinically approved antidepressant, serotonin reuptake inhibitor paroxetine (PX), recapitulated the effects of GRK2 silencing with dose- and time-dependent IGF1R downregulation without associated b-arr-BS. In vivo, PX treatment caused substantial downregulation of IGF1R, suppressing the growth of Ewing’s sarcoma xenografts. Functional studies reveal that PX exploits the antagonism between b-arrestin isoforms; in low ligand conditions, PX favored b-arrestin1/Mdm2-mediated ubiquitination/degradation of IGF1R, a scenario usually exclusive to ligand abundancy, making PX more effective than antibody-mediated IGF1R downregulation. This study provides the rationale, molecular mechanism, and validation of a clinically feasible concept for “system bias” targeting of the IGF1R to uncouple downregulation from signaling. Demonstrating system bias as an effective anticancer approach, our study reveals a novel strategy for the rational design or repurposing of therapeutics to selectively cross-target the IGF1R or other RTK. Significance: This work provides insight into the molecular and biological roles of biased signaling downstream RTK and provides a novel “system bias” strategy to increase the efficacy of anti–IGF1Rtargeted therapy in cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)501-515
Number of pages15
JournalCancer Research
Issue number2
Early online date6 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2021

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