Synovial sarcoma is an aggressive malignancy with no effective treatments for patients with metastasis. The synovial sarcoma fusion, SS18-SSX, which recruits the SWI/SNF-BAF chromatin remodeling and polycomb repressive complexes, results in epigenetic activation of FGFR signaling. In genetic FGFR knockout models, culture, and xenograft synovial sarcoma models treated with the FGFR inhibitor BGJ398, we show that FGFR1, FGFR2, and FGFR3 were crucial for tumor growth. Transcriptome analyses of BGJ398-treated cells, histological and expression analyses of mouse and human synovial sarcoma tumors revealed prevalent expression of two ETS factors and FGFR targets, ETV4 and ETV5. We further demonstrate that ETV4 and ETV5 acted as drivers of synovial sarcoma growth, most likely through control of the cell cycle. Upon ETV4 and ETV5 knockdown, we observed a striking upregulation of DUX4 and its transcriptional targets that activate the zygotic genome and drive the atrophy program in facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD) patients. In addition to demonstrating the importance of inhibiting all three FGFR receptors, the current findings reveal potential nodes of attack for the cancer with the discovery of ETV4 and ETV5 as appropriate biomarkers and molecular targets, and activation of the embryonic DUX4 pathway as a promising approach to block synovial sarcoma tumors.
Joanna DeSalvo, Yuguang Ban, Luyuan Li, Xiaodian Sun, Zhijie Jiang, Darcy A. Kerr, Mahsa Khanlari, Maria Boulina, Mario R. Capecchi, Juha M. Partanen, Lin Chen, Tadashi Kondo, David M. Ornitz, Jonathan C. Trent, Josiane E. Eid