We describe the discovery of an agonist of the nuclear receptor NR2F1 that specifically activates dormancy programs in malignant cells. The agonist led to a self-regulated increase in NR2F1 mRNA and protein and downstream transcription of a novel dormancy program. This program led to growth arrest of an HNSCC PDX line, human cell lines, and patient-derived organoids in 3D cultures and in vivo. This effect was lost when NR2F1 was knocked out by CRISPR-Cas9. RNA sequencing revealed that agonist treatment induces transcriptional changes associated with inhibition of cell cycle progression and mTOR signaling, metastasis suppression, and induction of a neural crest lineage program. In mice, agonist treatment resulted in inhibition of lung HNSCC metastasis, even after cessation of the treatment, where disseminated tumor cells displayed an NR2F1hi/p27hi/Ki-67lo/p-S6lo phenotype and remained in a dormant single-cell state. Our work provides proof of principle supporting the use of NR2F1 agonists to induce dormancy as a therapeutic strategy to prevent metastasis.

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