Copper bioavailability is a KRAS-specific vulnerability in colorectal cancer

Aubert, Léo, et al. “Copper Bioavailability Is a KRAS-Specific Vulnerability in Colorectal Cancer.” Nature Communications, vol. 11, no. 1, 2020, doi:10.1038/s41467-020-17549-y.


Despite its importance in human cancers, including colorectal cancers (CRC), oncogenic KRAS has been extremely challenging to target therapeutically. To identify potential vulnerabilities in KRAS-mutated CRC, we characterize the impact of oncogenic KRAS on the cell surface of intestinal epithelial cells. Here we show that oncogenic KRAS alters the expression of a myriad of cell-surface proteins implicated in diverse biological functions, and identify many potential surface-accessible therapeutic targets. Cell surface-based loss-of-function screens reveal that ATP7A, a copper-exporter upregulated by mutant KRAS, is essential for neoplastic growth. ATP7A is upregulated at the surface of KRAS-mutated CRC, and protects cells from excess copper-ion toxicity. We find that KRAS-mutated cells acquire copper via a non-canonical mechanism involving macropinocytosis, which appears to be required to support their growth. Together, these results indicate that copper bioavailability is a KRAS-selective vulnerability that could be exploited for the treatment of KRAS-mutated neoplasms.