A Drug Repositioning Approach Identifies Tricyclic Antidepressants as Inhibitors of Small Cell Lung Cancer and Other Neuroendocrine Tumors

Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is an aggressive neuroendocrine subtype of lung cancer with high mortality. We used a systematic drug repositioning bioinformatics approach querying a large compendium of gene expression profiles to identify candidate U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–approved drugs to treat SCLC. We found that tricyclic antidepressants and related molecules potently induce apoptosis in both chemonaïve and chemoresistant SCLC cells in culture, in mouse and human SCLC tumors transplanted into immunocompromised mice, and in endogenous tumors from a mouse model for human SCLC. The candidate drugs activate stress pathways and induce cell death in SCLC cells, at least in part by disrupting autocrine survival signals involving neurotransmitters and their G protein–coupled receptors. The candidate drugs inhibit the growth of other neuroendocrine tumors, including pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and Merkel cell carcinoma.