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OBJECTIVES: Partial or total resistance to preoperative chemoradiotherapy occurs in more than half of locally advanced rectal cancer patients. Several novel or repurposed drugs have been trialled to improve cancer cell sensitivity to radiotherapy, with limited success. We aimed to understand the mechanisms of resistance to chemoradiotherapy in rectal cancer using patient derived organoid models. DESIGN: To understand the mechanisms underlying this resistance, we compared the pre-treatment transcriptomes of patient-derived organoids (PDO) with measured radiotherapy sensitivity to identify biological pathways involved in radiation resistance coupled with single cell sequencing, genome wide CRISPR-Cas9 and targeted drug screens. RESULTS: RNA sequencing enrichment analysis revealed upregulation of PI3K/AKT/mTOR and epithelial mesenchymal transition pathway genes in radioresistant PDOs. Single-cell sequencing of pre & post-irradiation PDOs showed mTORC1 and PI3K/AKT upregulation, which was confirmed by a genome-wide CRSIPR-Cas9 knockout screen using irradiated colorectal cancer (CRC) cell lines. We then tested the efficiency of dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitors in improving cancer cell sensitivity to radiotherapy. After irradiation, significant AKT phosphorylation was detected (p=0.027) which was abrogated with dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitors and lead to significant radiosensitisation of the HCT116 cell line and radiation resistant PDO lines. CONCLUSIONS: The PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway upregulation contributes to radioresistance and its targeted pharmacological inhibition leads to significant radiosensitisation in CRC organoids, making it a potential target for clinical trials.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Oncol

Publication Date





PI3K - AKT pathway, colorectal cancer, mTOR, organoid, radiotherapy