Bexarotene - a novel modulator of AURKA and the primary cilium in VHL-deficient cells.
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Loss of the gene von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) is associated with loss of primary cilia and is causally linked to elevated levels of Aurora kinase A (AURKA). We developed an image-based high-throughput screening (HTS) assay using a dual-labeling image analysis strategy that identifies both the cilium and the basal body. By using this strategy, we screened small-molecule compounds for the targeted rescue of cilia defects associated with VHL deficiency with high accuracy and reproducibility. Bexarotene was identified and validated as a positive regulator of the primary cilium. Importantly, the inability of an alternative retinoid X receptor (RXR) agonist to rescue ciliogenesis, in contrast to bexarotene, suggested that multiple bexarotene-driven mechanisms were responsible for the rescue. We found that bexarotene decreased AURKA expression in VHL-deficient cells, thereby restoring the ability of these cells to ciliate in the absence of VHL Finally, bexarotene treatment reduced the propensity of subcutaneous lesions to develop into tumors in a mouse xenograft model of renal cell carcinoma (RCC), with a concomitant decrease in activated AURKA, highlighting the potential of bexarotene treatment as an intervention strategy in the clinic to manage renal cystogenesis associated with VHL deficiency and elevated AURKA expression.