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1.  Regulation of autophagy by ceramide-CD95-PERK signaling 
Autophagy  2008;4(7):929-931.
The manuscripts by Park et al.1 and Zhang et al.2 were initially planned as studies to understand the regulation of cell survival in transformed cells treated with sorafenib and vorinostat, and in primary hepatocytes treated with a bile acid+MEK1/2 inhibitor. In both cell systems we discovered that the toxicity of sorafenib and vorinostat or bile acid+MEK1/2 inhibitor exposure depended on the generation of ceramide and the ligand-independent activation of the CD95 death receptor, with subsequent activation of pro-caspase 8. We noted, however, in these systems that, in parallel with death receptor–induced activation of the extrinsic pathway, CD95 signaling also promoted increased phosphorylation of PKR-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK) and eIF2α, increased expression of ATG5, and increased processing of LC3 and vesicularization of a GFP-LC3 construct. The knockdown of ATG5 expression blocked GFP-LC3 vesicularization and enhanced cell killing. Thus ceramide-CD95 signaling promoted cell death via activation of pro-caspase 8 and cell survival via autophagy. PERK was shown to signal in a switch-hitting fashion; PERK promoted CD95-DISC formation and an eIF2α-dependent reduction in c-FLIP-s levels that were essential for cell killing to proceed, but in parallel it also promoted autophagy that was protective. The death receptor-induced apoptosis and autophagy occur proximal to the receptor rather than the mitochondrion, and the relative flow of death receptor signaling into either pathway may determine cell fate. Finally, death receptor induced apoptosis and autophagy could be potential targets for therapeutic intervention.
PMCID: PMC3292039  PMID: 18719356
Vorinostat; Sorafenib; bile acid; CD95; autophagy; ceramide; cell death; ASMase
2.  Vorinostat and sorafenib synergistically kill tumor cells via FLIP suppression and CD95 activation 
Purpose and Design
Mechanism(s) by which the multi-kinase inhibitor sorafenib and the histone deacetylase inhibitor vorinostat interact to kill hepatic, renal and pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells have been defined.
Low doses of sorafenib and vorinostat interacted in vitro in a synergistic fashion to kill hepatic, renal and pancreatic adenocarcinoma cells in multiple short term viability (24–96h) and in long term colony formation assays. Cell killing was suppressed by inhibition of cathepsin proteases and caspase 8, and to a lesser extent by inhibition of caspase 9. Twenty four hours after exposure, the activities of ERK1/2, AKT and NFκB were only modestly modulated by sorafenib and vorinostat treatment. However, 24h after exposure, sorafenib and vorinostat- treated cells exhibited markedly diminished expression of c-FLIP-s, full length BID, BCL-2, BCLXL, MCL-1, XIAP, increased expression of BIM, and increased activation of BAX, BAK and BAD. Expression of eIF2α S51A blocked sorafenib and vorinostat –induced suppression of c-FLIP-s levels and over-expression of c-FLIP-s abolished lethality. Sorafenib and vorinostat treatment increased surface levels of CD95 and CD95 association with caspase 8. Knock down of CD95 or FADD expression significantly reduced sorafenib / vorinostat -mediated lethality.
These data demonstrate that combined exposure of epithelial tumor cell types to sorafenib and vorinostat diminishes expression of multiple anti-apoptotic proteins, promotes activation of the CD95 extrinsic apoptotic and the lysosomal protease pathways, and that suppression of c-FLIP-s expression represents a critical event in transduction of the pro-apoptotic signals from CD95 to promote mitochondrial dysfunction and death.
PMCID: PMC2561272  PMID: 18765530
Vorinostat; Sorafenib; CD95; c-FLIP-s; caspase 8; cathepsin; cell death
3.  Sorafenib activates CD95 and promotes autophagy and cell death via Src family kinases in GI tumor cells 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2010;9(8):2220-2231.
Sorafenib and vorinostat interact in a synergistic fashion to kill carcinoma cells by activating CD95, and the present studies have determined individually how sorafenib and vorinostat contribute to CD95 activation. Sorafenib (3-6 μM) promoted a dose-dependent increase in Src Y416, ERBB1 Y845 and CD95 Y232/Y291 phosphorylation, and Src Y527 dephosphorylation. Low levels of sorafenib (3 μM) –induced CD95 tyrosine phosphorylation did not promote surface localization whereas sorafenib (6 μM), or sorafenib (3 μM) and vorinostat (500 nM) treatment promoted higher levels of CD95 phosphorylation that correlated with DISC formation, receptor surface localization and autophagy. CD95 (Y232F, Y291F) was not tyrosine phosphorylated and was unable to plasma membrane localize or induce autophagy. Knock down / knock out of Src family kinases abolished sorafenib –induced: CD95 tyrosine phosphorylation; DISC formation; and the induction of cell death and autophagy. Knock down of PDGFRβ enhanced Src Y416 and CD95 tyrosine phosphorylation that correlated with elevated CD95 plasma membrane levels and autophagy, and with a reduced ability of sorafenib to promote CD95 membrane localization. Vorinostat increased ROS levels; and in a delayed NFκB-dependent fashion, those of FAS ligand and CD95. Neutralization of FAS-L did not alter the initial rapid drug-induced activation of CD95 however, neutralization of FAS-L reduced sorafenib + vorinostat toxicity by ~50%. Thus sorafenib contributes to CD95 activation by promoting receptor tyrosine phosphorylation whereas vorinostat contributes to CD95 activation via initial facilitation of ROS generation and subsequently of FAS-L expression.
PMCID: PMC2933415  PMID: 20682655
Vorinostat; Sorafenib; CD95; c-FLIP-s; FAS-L; cell death; autophagy
4.  Vorinostat and sorafenib increase CD95 activation in gastrointestinal tumor cells through a Ca2+ - de novo ceramide - PP2A - ROS dependent signaling pathway 
Cancer research  2010;70(15):6313-6324.
The targeted therapeutics sorafenib and vorinostat interact in a synergistic fashion to kill carcinoma cells by activating CD95, and this drug combination is entering phase I evaluation. In this study we determined how CD95 is activated by treatment with this drug combination. Low doses of sorafenib and vorinostat but not the individual drugs rapidly increased ROS, Ca2+ and ceramide levels in GI tumor cells. The production of ROS was reduced in Rho zero cells. Quenching ROS blocked drug-induced CD95 surface localization and apoptosis. ROS generation, CD95 activation and cell killing was also blocked by quenching of induced Ca2+ levels or by inhibition of PP2A. Inhibition of acidic sphingomyelinase or de novo ceramide generation blocked the induction of ROS however combined inhibition of both acidic sphingomyelinase and de novo ceramide generation was required to block the induction of Ca2+. Quenching of ROS did not impact on drug-induced ceramide/dihydro-ceramide levels whereas quenching of Ca2+ reduced the ceramide increase. Sorafenib and vorinostat treatment radiosensitized liver and pancreatic cancer cells, an effect that was suppressed by quenching ROS or knock down of LASS6. Further, sorafenib and vorinostat treatment suppressed the growth of pancreatic tumors in vivo. Our findings demonstrate that induction of cytosolic Ca2+ by sorafenib and vorinostat is a primary event that elevates dihydroceramide levels, each essential steps in ROS generation that promotes CD95 activation.
PMCID: PMC2918282  PMID: 20631069
5.  Sorafenib and HDAC inhibitors synergize to kill CNS tumor cells 
Cancer Biology & Therapy  2012;13(7):567-574.
The present studies were designed to determine whether the multi-kinase inhibitor sorafenib (Nexavar) interacted with histone deacetylase inhibitors to kill glioblastoma and medulloblastoma cells. In a dose-dependent fashion sorafenib lethality was enhanced in multiple genetically disparate primary human glioblastoma isolates by the HDAC inhibitor sodium valproate (Depakote). Drug exposure reduced phosphorylation of p70 S6K and of mTOR. Similar data to that with valproate were also obtained using the HDAC inhibitor vorinostat (Zolinza). Sorafenib and valproate also interacted to kill medulloblastoma and PNET cell lines. Treatment with sorafenib and HDAC inhibitors radio-sensitized both GBM and medulloblastoma cell lines. Knock down of death receptor (CD95) expression protected GBM cells from the drug combination, as did overexpression of c-FLIP-s, BCL-XL and dominant negative caspase 9. Knock down of PDGFRα recapitulated the effect of sorafenib in combination with HDAC inhibitors. Collectively, our data demonstrate that the combination of sorafenib and HDAC inhibitors kills through activation of the extrinsic pathway, and could represent a useful approach to treat CNS-derived tumors.
PMCID: PMC3679096  PMID: 22406992
HDAC inhibitor; Sorafenib; apoptosis; glioma
6.  The Kinase Inhibitor Sorafenib Induces Cell Death through a Process Involving Induction of Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress▿ †  
Molecular and Cellular Biology  2007;27(15):5499-5513.
Sorafenib is a multikinase inhibitor that induces apoptosis in human leukemia and other malignant cells. Recently, we demonstrated that sorafenib diminishes Mcl-1 protein expression by inhibiting translation through a MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signaling-independent mechanism and that this phenomenon plays a key functional role in sorafenib-mediated lethality. Here, we report that inducible expression of constitutively active MEK1 fails to protect cells from sorafenib-mediated lethality, indicating that sorafenib-induced cell death is unrelated to MEK1/2-ERK1/2 pathway inactivation. Notably, treatment with sorafenib induced endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress in human leukemia cells (U937) manifested by immediate cytosolic-calcium mobilization, GADD153 and GADD34 protein induction, PKR-like ER kinase (PERK) and eukaryotic initiation factor 2α (eIF2α) phosphorylation, XBP1 splicing, and a general reduction in protein synthesis as assessed by [35S]methionine incorporation. These events were accompanied by pronounced generation of reactive oxygen species through a mechanism dependent upon cytosolic-calcium mobilization and a significant decline in GRP78/Bip protein levels. Interestingly, enforced expression of IRE1α markedly reduced sorafenib-mediated apoptosis, whereas knockdown of IRE1α or XBP1, disruption of PERK activity, or inhibition of eIF2α phosphorylation enhanced sorafenib-mediated lethality. Finally, downregulation of caspase-2 or caspase-4 by small interfering RNA significantly diminished apoptosis induced by sorafenib. Together, these findings demonstrate that ER stress represents a central component of a MEK1/2-ERK1/2-independent cell death program triggered by sorafenib.
PMCID: PMC1952105  PMID: 17548474
7.  OSU-03012 Stimulates PKR-Like Endoplasmic Reticulum-Dependent Increases in 70-kDa Heat Shock Protein Expression, Attenuating Its Lethal Actions in Transformed Cells 
Molecular pharmacology  2008;73(4):1168-1184.
We have further defined mechanism(s) by which 2-amino-N-{4-[5-(2-phenanthrenyl)-3-(trifluoromethyl)-1H-pyrazol-1-yl]-phenyl}acetamide [OSU-03012 (OSU)], a derivative of the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2) inhibitor celecoxib but lacking COX2 inhibitory activity, kills transformed cells. In cells lacking expression of protein kinase R-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK-/-), the lethality of OSU was attenuated. OSU enhanced the expression of Beclin 1 and ATG5 and cleavage of pro-caspase 4 in a PERK-dependent fashion and promoted the Beclin 1- and ATG5-dependent formation of vacuoles containing LC3, followed by a subsequent caspase 4-dependent cleavage of cathepsin B and a cathepsin B-dependent formation of low pH intracellular vesicles; cathepsin B was activated and released into the cytosol and genetic suppression of caspase 4, cathepsin B, or apoptosis-inducing factor function significantly suppressed cell killing. In parallel, OSU caused PERK-dependent increases in 70-kDa heat shock protein (HSP70) expression and decreases in 90-kDa heat shock protein (HSP90) and Grp78/BiP expression. Changes in HSP70 expression were post-transcriptional. Knockdown or small-molecule inhibition of HSP70 expression enhanced OSU toxicity, and overexpression of HSP70 suppressed OSU-induced low pH vesicle formation and lethality. Our data demonstrate that OSU-03012 causes cell killing that is dependent on PERK-induced activation of multiple toxic proteases. OSU-03012 also increased expression of HSP70 in a PERK-dependent fashion, providing support for the contention that OSU-03012-induced PERK signaling promotes both cell survival and cell death processes.
PMCID: PMC2674576  PMID: 18182481
8.  Phosphorylated ERK is a potential predictor of sensitivity to sorafenib when treating hepatocellular carcinoma: evidence from an in vitro study 
BMC Medicine  2009;7:41.
Sorafenib is the first agent that has demonstrated an improved overall survival benefit in advanced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), setting a new standard for first-line treatment. However, no one has yet been able to predict sensitivity to sorafenib. Pre-treatment pERK level has been shown to be associated with favorable response to such therapy in a phase II clinical study, indicating that pERK may be a potential biomarker for treatment of HCC with sorafenib.
The effects of sorafenib and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) on cell proliferation were evaluated by cell viability assays in four HCC cell lines (SMMC-7721, MHCC97-L, MHCC97-H and HCCLM6) with different metastatic potential and basal pERK expression levels. Expression levels of pERK were determined by immunocytochemical quantification together with western blot analysis, and pERK density values were also calculated. Correlation analyses were then carried out between the IC50 values of drugs and pERK density values. After basal ERK phosphorylation was down-regulated with U0126 in MHCC97-H cells, cellular responsiveness to sorafenib was assessed by cell viability assay.
Basal pERK levels increased stepwise in cell lines in accordance with their metastatic potential. Sorafenib inhibited ERK phosphorylation in a dose-dependent manner in all four cell lines at a concentration between 5 and 20 μM, but the degree of inhibition was significantly different according to their basal pERK expression level (P < 0.0001). In contrast, no significant change was observed after 5-FU treatment. Correlation analyses between the IC50 values and pERK densities revealed that the effects of sorafenib on cell proliferation were significantly correlated with basal pERK levels (Spearman r = -0.8671, P = 0.0003). Resistance to 5-FU was also significantly associated with basal pERK expression in these HCC cell lines (Spearman r = 0.7832, P = 0.0026). After the basal ERK phosphorylation level in MHCC97-H cells was reduced with U0126, they were significantly less sensitive to sorafenib-mediated growth inhibition, with an IC50 of 17.31 ± 1.62 μM versus 10.81 ± 1.24 μM (P = 0.0281).
In this in vitro study, pERK was confirmed to be a potential biomarker predictive of sensitivity to sorafenib in treating HCC. The RAF/MEK/ERK pathway may be involved in drug resistance to traditional chemotherapy in HCC.
PMCID: PMC2738687  PMID: 19698189
9.  Histone Deacetylase Inhibitors Potentiate Vesicular Stomatitis Virus Oncolysis in Prostate Cancer Cells by Modulating NF-κB-Dependent Autophagy 
Journal of Virology  2014;88(5):2927-2940.
Vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) is an oncolytic virus that induces cancer cell death through activation of the apoptotic pathway. Intrinsic resistance to oncolysis is found in some cell lines and many primary tumors as a consequence of residual innate immunity to VSV. In resistant-tumor models, VSV oncolytic potential can be reversibly stimulated by combination with epigenetic modulators, such as the histone deacetylase inhibitor vorinostat. Based on this reversible effect of vorinostat, we reasoned that critical host genes involved in oncolysis may likewise be reversibly regulated by vorinostat. A transcriptome analysis in prostate cancer PC3 cells identified a subset of NF-κB target genes reversibly regulated by vorinostat, as well as a group of interferon (IFN)-stimulated genes (ISGs). Consistent with the induction of NF-κB target genes, vorinostat-mediated enhancement of VSV oncolysis increased hyperacetylation of NF-κB RELA/p65. Additional bioinformatics analysis revealed that NF-κB signaling also increased the expression of several autophagy-related genes. Kinetically, autophagy preceded apoptosis, and apoptosis was observed only when cells were treated with both VSV and vorinostat. VSV replication and cell killing were suppressed when NF-κB signaling was inhibited using pharmacological or genetic approaches. Inhibition of autophagy by 3-methyladenine (3-MA) enhanced expression of ISGs, and either 3-MA treatment or genetic ablation of the autophagic marker Atg5 decreased VSV replication and oncolysis. Together, these data demonstrate that vorinostat stimulates NF-κB activity in a reversible manner via modulation of RELA/p65 signaling, leading to induction of autophagy, suppression of the IFN-mediated response, and subsequent enhancement of VSV replication and apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC3958113  PMID: 24371063
10.  Inhibition of autophagy significantly enhances combination therapy with sorafenib and HDAC inhibitors for human hepatoma cells 
AIM: To clarify whether histone deacetylase inhibitors histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACIs) can sensitize hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cells to sorafenib treatment.
METHODS: Bax, Bcl-2, ATG5-ATG12, p21, and p27 protein levels in Hep3B, HepG2, and PLC/PRF/5 cells were examined by Western blot. CCK8 and a fluorometric caspase-3 assay were used to examine cellular viability and apoptosis levels. The effect of Beclin-1 on sensitization of HCC cells to sorafenib was examined by transfecting Beclin-1 siRNA into Hep3B, HepG2, and PLC/PRF/5 cells.
RESULTS: Autophagy inhibition enhances the inhibitory effects of vorinostat and sorafenib alone or in combination on HCC cell growth. Vorinostat and sorafenib synergistically induced apoptosis and cell cycle alterations. Western blot data indicated that HDACIs and Beclin-1 knockdown increased the p53 acetylation level. The knockdown of Beclin-1 enhanced the synergistic effect of the combination of vorinostat with sorafenib.
CONCLUSION: HDACIs can sensitize HCC cells to sorafenib treatment by regulating the acetylation level of Beclin-1.
PMCID: PMC4009527  PMID: 24833845
Hepatocellular carcinoma; Histone deacetylase inhibitors; Autophagy; Sorafenib; Chemoresistance
11.  Combining the ABL1 Kinase Inhibitor Ponatinib and the Histone Deacetylase Inhibitor Vorinostat: A Potential Treatment for BCR-ABL-Positive Leukemia 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89080.
Resistance to imatinib (Gleevec®) in cancer cells is frequently because of acquired point mutations in the kinase domain of BCR-ABL. Ponatinib, also known as AP24534, is an oral multi-targeted tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI), and it has been investigated in a pivotal phase 2 clinical trial. The histone deacetylase inhibitor vorinostat (suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid) has been evaluated for its significant clinical activity in hematological malignancies. Thus, treatments combining ABL TKIs with additional drugs may be a promising strategy in the treatment of leukemia. In the current study, we analyzed the efficacy of ponatinib and vorinostat treatment by using BCR-ABL-positive cell lines. Treatment with ponatinib for 72 h inhibited cell growth and induced apoptosis in K562 cells in a dose-dependent manner. We found that ponatinib potently inhibited the growth of Ba/F3 cells ectopically expressing BCR-ABL T315I mutation. Upon BCR-ABL phosphorylation, Crk-L was decreased, and poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) was activated in a dose-dependent manner. Combined treatment of Ba/F3 T315I mutant cells with vorinostat and ponatinib resulted in significantly increased cytotoxicity. Additionally, the intracellular signaling of ponatinib and vorinostat was examined. Caspase 3 and PARP activation increased after combination treatment with ponatinib and vorinostat. Moreover, an increase in the phosphorylation levels of γH2A.X was observed. Previously established ponatinib-resistant Ba/F3 cells were also resistant to imatinib, nilotinib, and dasatinib. We investigated the difference in the efficacy of ponatinib and vorinostat by using ponatinib-resistant Ba/F3 cells. Combined treatment of ponatinib-resistant cells with ponatinib and vorinostat caused a significant increase in cytotoxicity. Thus, combined administration of ponatinib and vorinostat may be a powerful strategy against BCR-ABL mutant cells and could enhance the cytotoxic effects of ponatinib in those BCR-ABL mutant cells.
PMCID: PMC3938434  PMID: 24586514
12.  Regulation of Autophagy Via PERK-eIF2α Effectively Relieve the Radiation Myelitis Induced by Iodine-125 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e76819.
Radiation myelitis is the most serious complication in clinical radiotherapy for spinal metastases. We previously showed that 125I brachytherapy induced apoptosis of spinal cord neurons accompanied by autophagy. In this study, we further investigated the mechanism by which 125I radiation triggered autophagy in neural cells. We found that autophagy induced by 125I radiation was involved in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and mainly dependent on PERK-eIF2α pathway. The expressions of LC3II, ATG12 and PI3K were significantly suppressed in PERK knockout neural cells. Meanwhile, the expressions of phosphorylated-Akt s473 and caspase3/8 all significantly increased in neural cells transfected with a PERK siRNA and which enhanced apoptosis of neurons after 125I radiation. The results were consistent with that by MTT and Annexin-FITC/PT staining. In annimal model of banna pigs with radiation myelitis caused by 125I brachytherapy, we have successfully decreased PERK expression by intrathecal administration of the lentivirus vector. The apoptosis rate was significantly higher than that in control group and which deteriorated radiation myelitis of banna pigs. Thus, autophagy caused by 125I radiation was mainly as an attempt of cell survival at an early stage, but it would be a self-destructive process and promoted the process of apoptosis and necrosis radiated by 125I for more than 72 hours. The study would be useful and helpful to maximize efficiency of radiation therapy in clinical therapy.
PMCID: PMC3818370  PMID: 24223705
13.  Cyclic AMP/PKA-dependent paradoxical activation of Raf/MEK/ERK signaling in polycystin-2 defective mice treated with Sorafenib 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2012;56(6):2363-2374.
Mutations in polycystins (PC1 or PC2) are a cause of polycystic liver disease (PLD-ADPKD). In PC2-defective mice, cAMP/PKA-dependent activation of the Ras/Raf/MEK-ERK1/2 pathway stimulates the growth of liver cysts. To test the hypothesis that sorafenib, a Raf-inhibitor used for the treatment of liver and kidney cancers, inhibits liver cysts growth in PC-2 defective mice, we treated PC2 (i.e., Pkd2flox/−:pCxCreERTM, abbreviated as Pkd2cKO) mice with sorafenib-tosylate for 8 weeks (20–60 mg/kg/day). Sorafenib caused an unexpected increase in liver cyst area, cell proliferation (Ki67) and expression of pERK compared to Pkd2cKO mice treated with vehicle. When given to epithelial cells isolated from liver cysts of Pkd2cKO mice (Pkd2cKO-cells), sorafenib progressively stimulated pERK1/2 and cell proliferation (MTS and BrdU) at doses between 0.001 and 1 µM; but, both pERK1/2 and cell proliferation significantly decreased at the dose of 10 µM. Raf kinase activity assay showed that, while B-Raf is inhibited by sorafenib in both WT and Pkd2cKO cells, Raf-1 is inhibited in WT cells, but is significantly stimulated in Pkd2cKO cells. In Pkd2cKO-cells pretreated with a PKA inhibitor (PKI 1µM) and in mice treated with octreotide in combination with sorafenib, the paradoxical activation of Raf/ERK1/2 was abolished and cyst growth was inhibited.
In PC2-defective cells, sorafenib inhibits B-Raf, but paradoxically activates Raf-1, resulting in increased ERK1/2 phosphorylation, cell proliferation and cyst growth in vivo. These effects are consistent with the ability of Raf-inhibitors to transactivate Raf-1 when a PKA-activated Ras promotes Raf-1/B-Raf heterodimerization, and are inhibited by interfering with cAMP/PKA signaling both in vitro and in vivo, as shown by the reduction of liver cysts in mice treated with combined octreotide and sorafenib.
PMCID: PMC3460040  PMID: 22653837
Cholangiocytes; Polycystic Liver Diseases; Kinase Inhibitors; PKA; cAMP
14.  Single-agent therapy with sorafenib or 5-FU is equally effective in human colorectal cancer xenograft—no benefit of combination therapy 
We initiated this preclinical study in order to analyze the impact of sorafenib single treatment versus combination treatment in human colorectal cancer.
The effect of increasing sorafenib doses on proliferation, apoptosis, migration, and activation of signal cascades was analyzed in vitro. The effect of sorafenib single treatment versus 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) single treatment and combination therapy on in vivo proliferation and target cytokine receptor/ligand expression was analyzed in a human colon cancer xenograft mouse model using HT29 tumor cells.
In vitro, SW480 and HT29 cell lines were sensitive to sorafenib, as compared to Caco2 and SW620 cell lines, independent of the mutation status of K-ras, Raf, PTEN, or PI3K. The effect on migration was marginal, but distinct differences in caspases activation were seen. Combination strategies were beneficial in some settings (sorafenib + 5-FU; irinotecan) and disadvantageous in others (sorafenib + oxaliplatin), depending on the chemotherapeutic drug and cell line chosen. Sensitive cell lines revealed a downregulation of AKT and had a weak expression level of GADD45β. In resistant cell lines, pp53 and GADD45β levels decreased upon sorafenib exposure. In vivo, the combination treatment of sorafenib and 5-FU was equally effective as the respective monotherapy concerning tumor proliferation. Interestingly, treatment with either sorafenib or 5-FU resulted in a significant decrease of VEGFR1 and PDGFRβ expression intensity.
In colorectal cancer, a sensitivity towards sorafenib exists, which seems similarly effective as a 5-FU monotherapy. A combination therapy, in contrast, does not show any additional effect.
PMCID: PMC3587684  PMID: 22983756
Colorectal cancer; TKI; Sorafenib
15.  Sorafenib and HDAC inhibitors synergize with TRAIL to kill tumor cells 
Journal of cellular physiology  2013;228(10):1996-2005.
The present studies were designed to compare and contrast the abilities of TRAIL (death receptor agonist) and obatoclax (BCL-2 family inhibitor) to enhance [sorafenib + HDAC inhibitor] toxicity in GI tumor cells. Sorafenib and HDAC inhibitor treatment required expression of CD95 to kill GI tumor cells in vitro and in vivo. In cells lacking CD95 expression, TRAIL treatment, and to a lesser extent obatoclax, enhanced the lethal effects of [sorafenib + HDAC inhibitor] exposure. In hepatoma cells expressing CD95 a similar data pattern emerged with respect to the actions of TRAIL. Downstream of the death receptor the ability of TRAIL to enhance cell killing correlated with reduced AKT, ERK1/2, p70 S6K and mTOR activity and enhanced cleavage of pro-caspase 3 and reduced expression of MCL-1 and BCL-XL. Over-expression of BCL-XL or MCL-1 or expression of dominant negative pro-caspase 9 protected cells from drug toxicity. Expression of activated AKT, p70 S6K, mTORand to a lesser extent MEK1EE also protected cells that correlated with maintained c-FLIP-s expression, reduced BIM expression and increased BAD phosphorylation. In vivo [sorafenib + HDAC inhibitor] toxicity against tumors was increased in a greater than additive fashion by TRAIL.Collectively, our data argue that TRAIL, rather than obatoclax, is the most efficacious agent at promoting [sorafenib + HDAC inhibitor] lethality.
PMCID: PMC4012564  PMID: 23674352
sorafenib; histone deacetylase inhibitor; kinase; apoptosis; CD95; TRAIL; MCL-1
16.  Sorafenib enhances pemetrexed cytotoxicity through an autophagy- dependent mechanism in cancer cells 
Autophagy  2011;7(10):1261-1262.
Pemetrexed (ALIMTA) is a folate anti-metabolite that has been approved for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, and has been shown to stimulate autophagy. In the present study, we sought to further understand the role of autophagy in the response to pemetrexed and to test if combination therapy could enhance the level of toxicity through altered autophagy in tumor cells. The multikinase inhibitor sorafenib (NEXAVAR), used in the treatment of renal and hepatocellular carcinoma, suppresses tumor angiogenesis and promotes autophagy in tumor cells. We found that sorafenib interacted in a greater than additive fashion with pemetrexed to increase autophagy and to kill a diverse array of tumor cell types. Tumor cell types that displayed high levels of cell killing after combination treatment showed elevated levels of AKT, p70 S6K and/or phosphorylated mTOR, in addition to class III RTKs such as PDGFRβ and VEGFR1, known in vivo targets of sorafenib. In xenograft and in syngeneic animal models of mammary carcinoma and glioblastoma, the combination of sorafenib and pemetrexed suppressed tumor growth without deleterious effects on normal tissues or animal body mass. Taken together, the data suggest that premexetred and sorafenib act synergistically to enhance tumor killing via the promotion of a toxic form of autophagy that leads to activation of the intrinsic apoptosis pathway, and predict that combination treatment represents a future therapeutic option in the treatment of solid tumors.
PMCID: PMC3210312  PMID: 21814046
pemetrexed; sorafenib; autophagy; apoptosis; PDGFR; ZMP; AMP; thymidylate synthase
17.  Sorafenib enhances pemetrexed cytotoxicity through an autophagy -dependent mechanism in cancer cells 
Cancer research  2011;71(14):4955-4967.
Pemetrexed (ALIMTA) is a folate anti-metabolite that has been approved for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer, and has been shown to stimulate autophagy. In the present study, we sought to further understand the role of autophagy in the response to pemetrexed and to test if combination therapy could enhance the level of toxicity through altered autophagy in tumor cells. The multi-kinase inhibitor sorafenib (NEXAVAR), used in the treatment of renal and hepatocellular carcinoma, suppresses tumor angiogenesis and promotes autophagy in tumor cells. We found that sorafenib interacted in a greater than additive fashion with pemetrexed to increase autophagy and to kill a diverse array of tumor cell types. Tumor cell types that displayed high levels of cell killing after combination treatment showed elevated levels of AKT, p70 S6K and/or phosphorylated mTOR, in addition to Class III RTKs such as PDGFRβ and VEGFR1, known in vivo targets of sorafenib. In xenograft and in syngeneic animal models of mammary carcinoma and glioblastoma, the combination of sorafenib and pemetrexed suppressed tumor growth without deleterious effects on normal tissues or animal body mass. Taken together, the data suggest that premexetred and sorafenib act synergistically to enhance tumor killing via the promotion of a toxic form of autophagy that leads to activation of the intrinsic apoptosis pathway, and predict that combination treatment represents a future therapeutic option in the treatment of solid tumors.
PMCID: PMC3139015  PMID: 21622715
18.  Roles of c-FLIP in Apoptosis, Necroptosis, and Autophagy 
Cellular FLICE (FADD-like IL-1β-converting enzyme)-inhibitory protein (c-FLIP) is a major antiapoptotic protein and an important cytokine and chemotherapy resistance factor that suppresses cytokine- and chemotherapy-induced apoptosis. c-FLIP is expressed as long (c-FLIPL), short (c-FLIPS), and c-FLIPR splice variants in human cells. c-FLIP binds to FADD and/or caspase-8 or -10 and TRAIL receptor 5 (DR5). This interaction in turn prevents Death-Inducing Signaling Complex (DISC) formation and subsequent activation of the caspase cascade. c-FLIPL and c-FLIPS are also known to have multifunctional roles in various signaling pathways, as well as activating and/or upregulating several cytoprotective and pro-survival signaling proteins including Akt, ERK, and NF-κB. In addition to its role in apoptosis, c-FLIP is involved in programmed necroptosis (necrosis) and autophagy. Necroptosis is regulated by the Ripoptosome, which is a signaling intracellular cell death platform complex. The Ripoptosome contains receptor-interacting protein-1/Receptor-Interacting Protein-3 (RIP1), caspase-8, caspase-10, FADD, and c-FLIP isoforms involved in switching apoptotic and necroptotic cell death. c-FLIP regulates the Ripoptosome; in addition to its role in apoptosis, it is therefore also involved in necrosis. c-FLIPL attenuates autophagy by direct acting on the autophagy machinery by competing with Atg3 binding to LC3, thereby decreasing LC3 processing and inhibiting autophagosome formation. Upregulation of c-FLIP has been found in various tumor types, and its silencing has been shown to restore apoptosis triggered by cytokines and various chemotherapeutic agents. Hence, c-FLIP is an important target for cancer therapy. This review focuses on (1) the anti-apoptotic role of c-FLIP splice variants in preventing apoptosis and inducing cytokine and chemotherapy drug resistance, as well as its roles in necrosis and autophagy, and (2) modulation of c-FLIP expression as a means to enhance apoptosis and modulate necrosis and autophagy in cancer cells.
PMCID: PMC4219646  PMID: 25379355
c-FLIP; apoptosis; death receptors; cancer; chemotherapy
19.  Inhibiting oncogenic signaling by sorafenib activates PUMA via GSK3β and NF-κB to suppress tumor cell growth 
Oncogene  2012;31(46):4848-4858.
Aberrant Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK signaling is one of the most prevalent oncogenic alterations and confers survival advantage to tumor cells. Inhibition of this pathway can effectively suppress tumor cell growth. For example, sorafenib, a multi-kinase inhibitor targeting c-Raf and other oncogenic kinases, has been used clinically for treating advanced liver and kidney tumors, and also has shown efficacy against other malignancies. However, how inhibition of oncogenic signaling by sorafenib and other drugs suppresses tumor cell growth remains unclear. In this study, we found that sorafenib kills cancer cells by activating PUMA, a p53 target and a BH3-only Bcl-2 family protein. Sorafenib treatment induces PUMA in a variety of cancer cells irrespective of their p53 status. Surprisingly, the induction of PUMA by sorafenib is mediated by IκB-independent activation of NF-κB, which directly binds to the PUMA promoter to activate its transcription. NF-κB activation by sorafenib requires GSK3β activation, subsequent to ERK inhibition. Deficiency in PUMA abrogates sorafenib-induced apoptosis and caspase activation, and renders sorafenib resistance in colony formation and xenograft tumor assays. Furthermore, the chemosensitization effect of sorafenib is dependent on PUMA, and involves concurrent PUMA induction through different pathways. BH3 mimetics potentiate the anticancer effects of sorafenib, and restore sorafenib sensitivity in resistant cells. Together, these results demonstrate a key role of PUMA-dependent apoptosis in therapeutic inhibition of Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK signaling. They provide a rationale for manipulating the apoptotic machinery to improve sensitivity and overcome resistance to the therapies that target oncogenic kinase signaling.
PMCID: PMC3342476  PMID: 22286758
sorafenib; PUMA; apoptosis; NF-κB; GSK3β; colon cancer
20.  Immune modulation of effector CD4+ and regulatory T cell function by sorafenib in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma 
Cancer immunology, immunotherapy : CII  2012;62(4):10.1007/s00262-012-1380-8.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a difficult to treat cancer characterized by poor tumor immunity with only one approved systemic drug, sorafenib. If novel combination treatments are to be developed with immunological agents, the effects of sorafenib on tumor immunity are important to understand. In this study, we investigate the impact of sorafenib on the CD4+CD25− effector T cells (Teff) and CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) from patients with HCC. We isolated Teff and Treg from peripheral mononuclear cells of HCC patients to determineimmune reactivity by thymidine incorporation, ELISA and flow cytometry. Teff cultured alone or with Treg were supplemented with different concentrations of sorafenib. The effects of sorafenib on Teff responses were dose-dependent. Pharmacologic doses of sorafenib decreased Teff activation by down regulating CD25 surface expression. In contrast, sub-pharmacologic concentrations of sorafenib resulted in Teff activation. These low doses of sorafenib in the Teff cultures led to a significant increase in Teff proliferation, IL2 secretion and up-regulation of CD25 expression on the cell surface. In addition, low doses of sorafenib in the suppression Teff/Treg cocultures restored Teff responses by eliminating Treg suppression. The loss of Treg suppressive function correlated with an increase in IL2 and IL6 secretion. Our findings showthat sub-pharmacologic doses of sorafenib impact subsets of T cells differently, selectively increasing Teff activation while blocking Treg function. In conclusion, this study describes novel immune activating properties of low doses of sorafenib by promoting immune responsiveness in patients with HCC.
PMCID: PMC3863727  PMID: 23223899
Sorafenib; T cell; Regulatory T cells; Hepatocellular carcinoma; HCV
21.  Caspase-, cathepsin-, and PERK-dependent regulation of MDA-7/IL-24-induced cell killing in primary human glioma cells 
Molecular cancer therapeutics  2008;7(2):297-313.
Melanoma differentiation-associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24) is a novel cytokine displaying selective apoptosis-inducing activity in transformed cells without harming normal cells. The present studies focused on defining the mechanism(s) by which a GST-MDA-7 fusion protein inhibits cell survival of primary human glioma cells in vitro. GST-MDA-7 killed glioma cells with diverse genetic characteristics that correlated with inactivation of ERK1/2 and activation of JNK1-3. Activation of JNK1-3 was dependent on protein kinase R–like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK), and GST-MDA-7 lethality was suppressed in PERK−/− cells. JNK1-3 signaling activated BAX, whereas inhibition of JNK1-3, deletion of BAX, or expression of dominant-negative caspase-9 suppressed lethality. GST-MDA-7 also promoted a PERK-, JNK-, and cathepsin B–dependent cleavage of BID; loss of BID function promoted survival. GST-MDA-7 suppressed BAD and BIM phosphorylation and heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) expression. GST-MDA-7 caused PERK-dependent vacuolization of LC3-expressing endosomes whose formation was suppressed by incubation with 3-methylade-nine, expression of HSP70 or BiP/GRP78, or knockdown of ATG5 or Beclin-1 expression but not by inhibition of the JNK1-3 pathway. Knockdown of ATG5 or Beclin-1 expression or overexpression of HSP70 reduced GST-MDA-7 lethality. Our data show that GST-MDA-7 induces an endoplasmic reticulum stress response that is causal in the activation of multiple proapoptotic pathways, which converge on the mitochondrion and highlight the complexity of signaling pathways altered by mda-7/IL-24 in glioma cells that ultimately culminate in decreased tumor cell survival.
PMCID: PMC3204355  PMID: 18281515
22.  Involvement of p38 in signal switching from autophagy to apoptosis via the PERK/eIF2α/ATF4 axis in selenite-treated NB4 cells 
Jiang, Q | Li, F | Shi, K | Wu, P | An, J | Yang, Y | Xu, C
Cell Death & Disease  2014;5(5):e1270-.
Selenite has emerged as an optional chemotherapeutic agent for hematological malignancies. Autophagy and apoptosis are both engaged in selenite-induced cell death. In a previous report, we have identified heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) as a critical modulator of the balance between autophagy and apoptosis in selenite-treated leukemia cells. However, the mechanisms by which selenite mediates the crosstalk between autophagy and apoptosis remain largely unknown. Herein, we demonstrate that the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-related PERK/eIF2α/ATF4 pathway and p38 are core modules for the selenite-induced switch to apoptosis from autophagy. We found that selenite activated PERK and eIF2α/ATF4 downstream to promote apoptosis. During this progression, p38 was dissociated from PERK-inhibiting Hsp90 and became autophosphorylated. Then, activated p38 further enhanced the docking of activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) onto the CHOP (CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein homologous protein) promoter via eIF2α to enhance apoptosis. We also found that activated p38 suppressed the phosphorylation of eIF4E that directed ATF4 to bind to the MAP1LC3B (microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3B) promoter. Because of the deactivation of eIF4E, the association of ATF4 with the MAP1LC3B promoter was inhibited, and autophagy was compromised. Intriguingly, p53 played important roles in mediating the p38-mediated regulation of eIF2α and eIF4E. When activated by p38, p53 induced the phosphorylation of eIF2α and the dephosphorylation of eIF4E, particularly in the nucleus where the ATF4 transcription factor was modulated, ultimately resulting in differential expression of CHOP and LC3. Moreover, selenite exhibited potent antitumor effects in vivo. In an NB4 cell xenograft model, selenite induced apoptosis and hampered autophagy. In addition, related signaling proteins demonstrated similar changes to those observed in vitro. These data suggest that selenite may be a candidate drug for leukemia therapy.
PMCID: PMC4047911  PMID: 24874742
p38; selenite; autophagy; apoptosis; p53
23.  Activation of HIV Transcription with Short-Course Vorinostat in HIV-Infected Patients on Suppressive Antiretroviral Therapy 
PLoS Pathogens  2014;10(11):e1004473.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) persistence in latently infected resting memory CD4+ T-cells is the major barrier to HIV cure. Cellular histone deacetylases (HDACs) are important in maintaining HIV latency and histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) may reverse latency by activating HIV transcription from latently infected CD4+ T-cells. We performed a single arm, open label, proof-of-concept study in which vorinostat, a pan-HDACi, was administered 400 mg orally once daily for 14 days to 20 HIV-infected individuals on suppressive antiretroviral therapy (ART). The primary endpoint was change in cell associated unspliced (CA-US) HIV RNA in total CD4+ T-cells from blood at day 14. The study is registered at (NCT01365065). Vorinostat was safe and well tolerated and there were no dose modifications or study drug discontinuations. CA-US HIV RNA in blood increased significantly in 18/20 patients (90%) with a median fold change from baseline to peak value of 7.4 (IQR 3.4, 9.1). CA-US RNA was significantly elevated 8 hours post drug and remained elevated 70 days after last dose. Significant early changes in expression of genes associated with chromatin remodeling and activation of HIV transcription correlated with the magnitude of increased CA-US HIV RNA. There were no statistically significant changes in plasma HIV RNA, concentration of HIV DNA, integrated DNA, inducible virus in CD4+ T-cells or markers of T-cell activation. Vorinostat induced a significant and sustained increase in HIV transcription from latency in the majority of HIV-infected patients. However, additional interventions will be needed to efficiently induce virus production and ultimately eliminate latently infected cells.
Trial Registration NCT01365065
Author Summary
The major barrier to curing HIV is the long term persistence of latently infected resting memory T-cells in HIV-infected patients on antiretroviral therapy (ART). One strategy being pursued to eliminate latently infected cells is to activate HIV production from latently infected cells with the aim of killing latently infected cells via virus induced cell death or stimulation of an HIV-specific immune response. Histone deacetylases (HDACs) are important in maintaining HIV latency. Vorinostat, an inhibitor of HDACs (HDACi) licensed for the treatment of some malignancies, has been shown in laboratory studies and a clinical study of selected individuals to disrupt HIV latency. We examined the ability of standard dose vorinostat given daily for 14 days to activate latent HIV infection in unselected HIV-infected individuals on ART. The study showed evidence of activation of latent HIV infection in 18/20 (90%) of individuals and was safe and generally well tolerated. There were significant early changes in host gene expression, which persisted during and after the period of vorinostat. No changes were seen in immune activation or number of latently infected cells. Vorinostat was able to activate latent HIV infection in most individuals. Additional interventions will be needed to eliminate latent HIV infection.
PMCID: PMC4231123  PMID: 25393648
24.  Sorafenib and pemetrexed toxicity in cancer cells is mediated via SRC-ERK signaling 
Cancer Biology & Therapy  2012;13(9):793-803.
The present studies sought to further understand how the anti-folate pemetrexed and the multi-kinase inhibitor sorafenib interact to kill tumor cells. Sorafenib activated SRC, and via SRC the drug combination activated ERK1/2. Expression of dominant negative SRC or dominant negative MEK1 abolished drug-induced ERK1/2 activation, together with drug-induced autophagy, acidic lysosome formation, and tumor cell killing. Protein phosphatase 2A is an important regulator of the ERK1/2 pathway. Fulvestrant resistant MCF7 cells expressed higher levels of the PP2A inhibitor SET/I2PP2A, had lower endogenous PP2A activity, and had elevated basal ERK1/2 activity compared with their estrogen dependent counterparts. Overexpression of I2PP2A blocked drug-induced activation of ERK1/2 and tumor cell killing. PP2A can be directly activated by ceramide and SET/I2PP2A can be inhibited by ceramide. Inhibition of the de novo ceramide synthase pathway blocked drug-induced ceramide generation, PP2A activation and tumor cell killing. Collectively these findings demonstrate that ERK1/2 plays an essential role downstream of SRC in pemetrexed and sorafenib lethality and that PP2A plays an important role in regulating this process.
PMCID: PMC3679099  PMID: 22673740
ERK; I2PP2A; PP2A; SRC; autophagy; ceramide; pemetrexed; sorafenib
25.  YC-1 enhances the anti-tumor activity of sorafenib through inhibition of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) in hepatocellular carcinoma 
Molecular Cancer  2014;13:7.
Traditional systemic chemotherapy does not provide survival benefits in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Molecular targeted therapy shows promise for HCC treatment, however, the duration of effectiveness for targeted therapies is finite and combination therapies offer the potential for improved effectiveness.
Sorafenib, a multikinase inhibitor, and YC-1, a soluble guanylyl cyclase (sGC) activator, were tested in HCC by proliferation assay, cell cycle analysis and western blot in vitro and orthotopic and ectopic HCC models in vivo.
In vitro, combination of sorafenib and YC-1 synergistically inhibited proliferation and colony formation of HepG2, BEL-7402 and HCCLM3 cells. The combination also induced S cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, as observed by activated PARP and caspase 8. Sorafenib and YC-1 respectively suppressed the expression of phosphorylated STAT3 (p-STAT3) (Y705) in a dose- and time-dependent manner. Combination of sorafenib and YC-1 significantly inhibited the expression of p-STAT3 (Y705) (S727), p-ERK1/2, cyclin D1 and survivin and SHP-1 activity compared with sorafenib or YC-1 used alone in all tested HCC cell lines. In vivo, sorafenib-YC-1 combination significantly suppressed the growth of HepG2 tumor xenografts with decreased cell proliferation and increased apoptosis observed by PCNA and PARP. Similar results were also confirmed in a HCCLM3 orthotopic model. There was a reduction in CD31-positive blood vessels and reduced VEGF expression, which suggested a combinational effect of sorafenib and YC-1 on angiogenesis. The reduced expression of p-STAT3, cyclin D1 and survivin was also observed with the combination of sorafenib and YC-1.
Our data show that sorafenib-YC-1 combination is a novel potent therapeutic agent that can target the STAT3 signaling pathway to inhibit HCC tumor growth.
PMCID: PMC3895679  PMID: 24418169
YC-1; Sorafenib; Hepatocellular carcinoma; STAT3

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