A Perspective on Polo-Like Kinase-1 Inhibition for the Treatment of Rhabdomyosarcomas

Susanne A. Gatz, Ewa Aladowicz, Michela Casanova, Julia C. Chisholm, Pamela R. Kearns, Simone Fulda, Birgit Geoerger, Beat W. Schäfer, Janet M. Shipley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Rhabdomyosarcomas are the most common pediatric soft tissue sarcoma and are a major cause of death from cancer in young patients requiring new treatment options to improve outcomes. High-risk patients include those with metastatic or relapsed disease and tumors with PAX3-FOXO1 fusion genes that encode a potent transcription factor that drives tumourigenesis through transcriptional reprogramming. Polo-Like Kinase-1 (PLK1) is a serine/threonine kinase that phosphorylates a wide range of target substrates and alters their activity. PLK1 functions as a pleiotropic master regulator of mitosis and regulates DNA replication after stress. Taken together with high levels of expression that correlate with poor outcomes in many cancers, including rhabdomyosarcomas, it is an attractive therapeutic target. This is supported in rhabdomyosarcoma models by characterization of molecular and phenotypic effects of reducing and inhibiting PLK1, including changes to the PAX3-FOXO1 fusion protein. However, as tumor re-growth has been observed, combination strategies are required. Here we review preclinical evidence and consider biological rationale for PLK1 inhibition in combination with drugs that promote apoptosis, interfere with activity of PAX3-FOXO1 and are synergistic with microtubule-destabilizing drugs such as vincristine. The preclinical effects of low doses of the PLK1 inhibitor volasertib in combination with vincristine, which is widely used in rhabdomyosarcoma treatment, show particular promise in light of recent clinical data in the pediatric setting that support achievable volasertib doses predicted to be effective. Further development of novel therapeutic strategies including PLK1 inhibition may ultimately benefit young patients with rhabdomyosarcoma and other cancers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1271
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
Publication statusPublished - Nov 22 2019


  • combination treatment
  • microtubule disruptors
  • PLK1 inhibitors
  • polo-like kinase 1
  • rhabdomyosarcomas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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