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1.  Autophagy switches to apoptosis in prostate cancer cells infected with melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24) 
Autophagy  2011;7(9):1076-1077.
MDA-7/IL-24 has noteworthy potential as an anticancer therapeutic because of its diversity of antitumor properties, its lack of toxicity toward normal cells and tissues, and its safety and efficacy as evidenced in a phase I clinical trial. In a recent study, we document that Ad.mda-7-induced ER stress and ceramide production leads to early autophagy that subsequently switches to apoptosis in human prostate cancer cells. During the apoptotic phase, the MDA-7/IL-24 protein physically interacts with Beclin 1 and this interaction might inhibit Beclin 1 function culminating in apoptosis. Conversely, Ad.mda-7 infection leads to calpain-mediated cleavage of the Atg5 protein that might also facilitate a biochemical switch from autophagy to apoptosis. Our recent paper reveals novel aspects of the interplay between autophagy and apoptosis that underlie the cytotoxic action of MDA-7/IL-24 in prostate cancer cells. These new insights into MDA-7/IL-24 action provide intriguing leads for developing innovative combinatorial approaches for prostate cancer therapy.
PMCID: PMC3210317  PMID: 21610321
mda-7/IL-24; protective autophagy; apoptosis; Beclin 1; Atg5
2.  mda-7/IL-24 differentially regulates soluble and nuclear clusterin in prostate cancer 
Journal of Cellular Physiology  2012;227(5):1805-1813.
Melanoma differentiation-associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24), a unique member of the IL-10 gene family, displays a broad range of antitumor properties including cancer-specific induction of apoptosis, inhibition of tumor angiogenesis, and modulation of anti-tumor immune responses. Here we identify clusterin (CLU) as a MDA-7/IL-24 interacting protein in DU-145 cells and investigate the role of MDA-7/IL-24 in regulating CLU expression and mediating the antitumor properties of mda-7/IL-24 in prostate cancer. Ad.mda-7 decreased expression of soluble CLU (sCLU) and increased expression of nuclear CLU (nCLU). In the initial phase of Ad.mda-7 infection sCLU expression increased and CLU interacted with MDA-7/IL-24 producing a cytoprotective effect. Infection of stable clones of DU-145 prostate cancer cells expressing sCLU with Ad.mda-7 resulted in generation of nCLU that correlated with decreased cell viability and increased apoptosis. In the presence of mda-7/IL-24, sCLU-DU-145 cells displayed G2/M phase arrest followed by apoptosis. Similarly, Ad.mda-7 infection decreased cell migration by altering cytoskeleton in sCLU-DU-145 cells. Ad.mda-7-treated sCLU-DU-145 cells displayed a significant reduction in tumor growth in mouse xenograft models and reduced angiogenesis when compared to the vector control group. Tumor tissue lysates demonstrated enhanced nCLU generated from sCLU with increased apoptosis in the presence of MDA-7/IL-24. Our findings reveal novel aspects relative to the role of sCLU/nCLU in regulating the anticancer properties of MDA-7/IL-24 that may be exploited for developing enhanced therapies for prostate cancer.
PMCID: PMC3228882  PMID: 21732348
MDA-7/IL-24; soluble clusterin; nuclear clusterin; G2/M arrest; apoptosis
3.  Targeting breast cancer-initiating/stem cells with melanoma differentiation-associated gene-7/interleukin-24 
Melanoma differentiation-associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24) displays a broad range of antitumor properties including cancer-specific induction of apoptosis, inhibition of tumor angiogenesis and modulation of antitumor immune responses. In our study, we elucidated the role of MDA-7/IL-24 in inhibiting growth of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells. Ad.mda-7 infection decreased proliferation of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells without affecting normal breast stem cells. Ad.mda-7 induced apoptosis and endoplasmic reticulum stress in breast cancer-initiating/stem cells similar to unsorted breast cancer cells and inhibited the self-renewal property of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells by suppressing Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Prevention of inhibition of Wnt signaling by LiCl increased cell survival upon Ad.mda-7 treatment, suggesting that Wnt signaling inhibition might play a key role in MDA-7/IL-24-mediated death of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells. In a nude mouse subcutaneous xenograft model, Ad.mda-7 injection profoundly inhibited growth of tumors generated from breast cancer-initiating/stem cells and also exerted a potent “bystander” activity inhibiting growth of distant uninjected tumors. Further studies revealed that tumor growth inhibition by Ad.mda-7 was associated with a decrease in proliferation and angiogenesis, two intrinsic features of MDA-7/IL-24, and a reduction in vivo in the percentage of breast cancer-initiating/stem cells. Our findings demonstrate that MDA-7/IL-24 is not only nontoxic to normal cells and normal stem cells but also can kill both unsorted cancer cells and enriched populations of cancer-initiating/stem cells, providing further documentation that MDA-7/IL-24 might be a safe and effective way to eradicate cancers and also potentially establish disease-free survival.
PMCID: PMC4334374  PMID: 23720015
MDA-7/IL-24; apoptosis; Wnt signaling; cancer-initiating/stem cells; breast cancer
4.  OSU-03012 enhances Ad.mda-7-induced GBM cell killing via ER stress and autophagy and by decreasing expression of mitochondrial protective proteins 
Cancer biology & therapy  2010;9(7):526-536.
The present studies focused on determining whether the autophagy-inducing drug OSU-03012 (AR-12) could enhance the toxicity of recombinant adenoviral delivery of melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24) in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) cells. The toxicity of a recombinant adenovirus to express MDA-7/IL-24 (Ad.mda-7) was enhanced by OSU-03012 in a diverse panel of primary human GBM cells. The enhanced toxicity correlated with reduced ERK1/2 phosphorylation and expression of MCL-1 and BCL-XL, and was blocked by molecular activation of ERK1/2 and by inhibition of the intrinsic, but not the extrinsic, apoptosis pathway. Both OSU-03012 and expression of MDA-7/IL-24 increased phosphorylation of PKR-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK) that correlated with increased levels of autophagy and expression of dominant negative PERK blocked autophagy induction and tumor cell death. Knockdown of ATG5 or Beclin1 suppressed OSU-03012 enhanced MDA-7/IL-24-induced autophagy and blocked the lethal interaction between the two agents. Ad.mda-7-infected GBM cells secreted MDA-7/IL-24 into the growth media and this conditioned media induced expression of MDA-7/IL-24 in uninfected GBM cells. OSU-03012 interacted with conditioned media to kill GBM cells and knockdown of MDA-7/IL-24 in these cells suppressed tumor cell killing. Collectively, our data demonstrate that the induction of autophagy and mitochondrial dysfunction by a combinatorial treatment approach represents a potentially viable strategy to kill primary human GBM cells.
PMCID: PMC2888700  PMID: 20107314
ROS; caspase; ER stress; CD95; cell death
5.  PERK–Dependent Regulation of Ceramide Synthase 6 and Thioredoxin Play a Key Role in mda-7/IL-24–Induced Killing of Primary Human Glioblastoma Multiforme Cells 
Cancer research  2010;70(3):1120-1129.
Melanoma differentiation associated gene-7(mda-7) encodes IL-24, a cytokine that can selectively trigger apoptosis in transformed cells. Recombinant mda-7 adenovirus (Ad.mda-7) effectively kills glioma cells, offering a novel gene therapy strategy to address deadly brain tumors. In this study, we defined the proximal mechanisms by which Ad-mda-7 kills glioma cells. Key factors implicated included activation of the endoplasmic reticulum stress kinase protein kinase R–like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK), Ca++ elevation, ceramide generation and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production. PERK inhibition blocked ceramide or dihydroceramide generation, which were critical for Ca++ induction and subsequent ROS formation. Activation of autophagy and cell death relied upon ROS formation, the inhibition of which ablated Ad.mda-7–killing activity. In contrast, inhibiting TRX induced by Ad.MDA-7 enhanced tumor cytotoxicity and improved animal survival in an orthotopic tumor model. Our findings indicate that mda-7/IL-24 induces an endoplasmic reticulum stress response that triggers production of ceramide, Ca2+, and ROS, which in turn promote glioma cell autophagy and cell death.
PMCID: PMC2890071  PMID: 20103619
6.  Melanoma differentiation-associated gene-7, MDA-7/IL-24, selectively induces growth suppression, apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma cell line HepG2 by replication-incompetent adenovirus vector 
AIM: To investigate the effect of replication-incompetent adenovirus vector expressing MDA-7/IL-24 on tumor growth and apoptosis in human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell line HepG2 and normal liver cell line L02.
METHODS: We constructed the recombinant replication-incompetent Ad.mda-7 virus vector and infected it into the human HCC cell line HepG2 and normal liver cell line L02. RT-PCR was performed to detect the mRNA expressing in cells. by ELISA was used to detect MDA-7/IL-24 protein expression in the culture supernatant. The effect of apoptosis induced by Ad.mda-7 was confirmed by Hoechst staining and flow cytometry assay with Annexin-V and PI staining. MTT assay was used to determine growth inhibition of HepG2 cells, and cell-cycle and hypodiploidy analyses were performed by flow cytometry.
RESULTS: Recombinant replication-defective virus expressing MDA-7/IL-24 was constructed successfully. RT-PCR showed that the Ad.mda-7 could mediate the expression of the exogenous gene MDA-7/IL-24 into HepG2 and L02. The concentration of MDA-7/IL-24 protein in supernatant was 130 pg/mL and 110 pg/mL in Ad.mda-7-infected L02 and HepG2 cells, respectively. Ad.mda-7 infection obviously induced apoptosis (from 2.60±0.72% to 33.6±13.2%, P  = 0.00012) and growth suppression in HepG2 (inhibition ratio IR = 68%) and an increase in the percentage of specific cancer cell types at the G2/M phase of the cell cycle (from 6.44% to 32.29%, P < 0.01), but not in L02 cells.
CONCLUSION: These results confirm selectively induction of apoptosis and growth suppression by the mda-7/IL-24 gene with replication-incompetent adenovirus vector in human hepatocellular carcinoma cell line HepG2.
PMCID: PMC4124357  PMID: 16586551
Cancer gene therapy; Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC); Apoptosis; Growth suppression; MDA-7/IL-24
7.  Secretable Chaperone Grp170 Enhances Therapeutic Activity of a Novel Tumor Suppressor Mda-7/IL-24 
Cancer research  2008;68(10):3890-3898.
Melanoma differentiation-associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24) is a cancer-specific, apoptosis-inducing gene with broad-spectrum antitumor activity, making it an ideal candidate for a novel cancer gene therapy. A systemic and sustained antitumor immune response generated at the time of initial molecular-targeted therapy would provide additional clinical benefits in cancer patients, resulting in improved prevention of tumor recurrence. In this study, we explored the therapeutic efficacy of intratumoral delivery of a nonreplicating adenoviral vectors encoding mda-7/IL-24 (Ad.mda-7) and a secretable form of endoplasmic reticulum resident chaperone grp170 (Ad.sgrp170), a potent immunostimulatory adjuvant and antigen carrier. Intratumoral administration of Ad.mda-7 in combination with Ad.sgrp170 was more effective in controlling growth of TRAMP-C2 prostate tumor as compared to either Ad.mda-7 or Ad.sgrp170 treatment. Generation of systemic antitumor immunity was demonstrated by enhanced protection against subsequent tumor challenge and improved control of distant tumors. The combined treatments enhanced antigen and tumor-specific T-cell response as indicated by increased IFN-γ production and cytolytic activity. Antibody depletion suggests that CD8+ T-cell may be involved in the antitumor effect of the dual molecule-targeted therapies. Therefore, introducing immunostimulatory chaperone grp170 in situ strongly promotes the ‘immunogenic’ cell death when delivered to the mda-7/IL-24 induced apoptotic tumor cells, indicating that an improved anti-cancer efficacy may be achieved by concurrently targeting both tumor and immune compartments. Given multiple undefined antigens present endogenously within prostate cancer, these data provide a rationale for combining sgrp170-based vaccine strategy with mda-7/IL-24-targeted cancer therapy to induce durable systemic immunity.
PMCID: PMC3025602  PMID: 18483274
mda-7/IL-24; cancer gene therapy; stress protein; chaperone; grp170; immunity
8.  Novel mechanism of MDA-7/IL-24 cancer-specific apoptosis through SARI induction 
Cancer research  2013;74(2):563-574.
Subtraction-hybridization combined with induction of cancer cell terminal differentiation in human melanoma cells identified melanoma differentiation associated gene-7 (mda-7/IL-24) and SARI (Suppressor of AP-1, induced by IFN) that display potent antitumor activity. These genes are not constitutively expressed in cancer cells and forced expression of mda-7/IL-24 (Ad.mda-7) or SARI(Ad.SARI) promotes cancer-specific cell death. Ectopic expression of mda-7/IL-24 induces SARI mRNA and protein in a panel of different cancer cells leading to cell death, without harming corresponding normal cells. Simultaneous inhibition of K-ras downstream extracellular regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2) signaling in pancreatic cancer cells reverses the translational block of MDA-7/IL-24 and induces SARI expression and cell death. Using SARI-antisense-based approaches we demonstrate that SARI expression is necessary for mda-7/IL-24 antitumor effects. Secreted MDA-7/IL-24 protein induces antitumor ‘bystander’ effects by promoting its own expression. Recombinant MDA-7/IL-24 (His-MDA-7) induces SARI expression, supporting the involvement of SARI in the MDA-7/IL-24-driven autocrine loop culminating in antitumor effects. Moreover, His-MDA-7 after binding to its cognate receptors (IL-20R1/IL-20R2 or IL-22R/IL-20R2) induces intracellular signaling by phosphorylation of p38 MAPK leading to transcription of a family of growth arrest and DNA damage inducible (GADD) genes, culminating in apoptosis. Inhibition of p38 MAPK fails to induce SARI following Ad.mda-7 infection. These findings reveal the significance of the mda-7/IL-24-SARI axis in cancer-specific killing, and provide a potential strategy for treating both local and metastatic disease.
PMCID: PMC3915776  PMID: 24282278
SARI; MDA-7/IL-24; apoptosis; IL-20/IL-22 receptors
9.  Atg7- and Keap1-dependent autophagy protects breast cancer cell lines against mitoquinone-induced oxidative stress 
Oncotarget  2014;5(6):1526-1537.
The interplay between oxidative stress and autophagy is critical for determining the fate of cancer cells exposed to redox-active and cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents. Mitoquinone (MitoQ), a mitochondrially-targeted redox-active ubiquinone conjugate, selectively kills breast cancer cells over healthy mammary epithelial cells. We reported previously that MitoQ, although a derivative of the antioxidant ubiquinone, can generate excess ROS and trigger the Keap1-Nrf2 antioxidant response in the MDA-MB-231 cell line. Following MitoQ treatment, a greater number of cells underwent autophagy than apoptosis. However, the relationship between MitoQ-induced oxidative stress and autophagy as a primary cellular response was unclear. In this report, we demonstrate that MitoQ induces autophagy related gene 7 (Atg7)-dependent, yet Beclin-1-independent, autophagy marked by an increase in LC3-II. Both the ATG7-deficient human MDA-MB-231 cells and Atg7-knockout mouse embryonic fibroblasts exhibited lower levels of autophagy following MitoQ treatment than their respective wild-type counterparts. Increased apoptosis was confirmed in these autophagy-deficient isogenic cell line pairs, indicating that autophagy was attempted for survival in wild type cell lines. Furthermore, we observed higher levels of ROS in Atg7-deficient cells, as measured by hydroethidine oxidation. In Atg7-deficient cells, redox-sensitive Keap1 degradation was decreased, suggesting autophagy- and Atg7-dependent degradation of Keap1. Conversely, downregulation of Keap1 decreased autophagy levels, increased Nrf2 activation, upregulated cytoprotective antioxidant gene expression, and caused accumulation of p62, suggesting a feedback loop between ROS-regulated Keap1-Nrf2 and Atg7-regulated autophagy. Our data indicate that excessive ROS causes the upregulation of autophagy, and autophagy acts as an antioxidant feedback response triggered by cytotoxic levels of MitoQ.
PMCID: PMC4039229  PMID: 24681637
autophagy; reactive oxygen species; mitoquinone; breast cancer
10.  Attenuation of TNFSF10/TRAIL-induced apoptosis by an autophagic survival pathway involving TRAF2- and RIPK1/RIP1-mediated MAPK8/JNK activation 
Autophagy  2012;8(12):1811-1821.
Although it is known that tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TNFSF10/TRAIL) induces autophagy, the mechanism by which autophagy is activated by TNFSF10 is still elusive. In this report, we show evidence that TRAF2- and RIPK1-mediated MAPK8/JNK activation is required for TNFSF10-induced cytoprotective autophagy. TNFSF10 activated autophagy rapidly in cancer cell lines derived from lung, bladder and prostate tumors. Blocking autophagy with either pharmacological inhibitors or siRNAs targeting the key autophagy factors BECN1/Beclin 1 or ATG7 effectively increased TNFSF10-induced apoptotic cytotoxicity, substantiating a cytoprotective role for TNFSF10-induced autophagy. Blocking MAPK8 but not NFκB effectively blocked autophagy, suggesting that MAPK8 is the main pathway for TNFSF10-induced autophagy. In addition, blocking MAPK8 effectively inhibited degradation of BCL2L1/Bcl-xL and reduction of the autophagy-suppressing BCL2L1–BECN1complex. Knockdown of TRAF2 or RIPK1 effectively suppressed TNFSF10-induced MAPK8 activation and autophagy. Furthermore, suppressing autophagy inhibited expression of antiapoptosis factors BIRC2/cIAP1, BIRC3/cIAP2, XIAP and CFLAR/c-FLIP and increased the formation of TNFSF10-induced death-inducing signaling complex (DISC). These results reveal a critical role for the MAPK8 activation pathway through TRAF2 and RIPK1 for TNFSF10-induced autophagy that blunts apoptosis in cancer cells. Thus, suppression of MAPK8-mediated autophagy could be utilized for sensitizing cancer cells to therapy with TNFSF10.
PMCID: PMC3541290  PMID: 23051914
autophagy; MAPK8/JNK; RIPK1/RIP1; TRAF2; TNFSF10/TRAIL; apoptosis
Autophagy  2007;4(2):195-204.
Hypoxia (lack of oxygen) is a physiological stress often associated with solid tumors. Hypoxia correlates with poor prognosis since hypoxic regions within tumors are considered apoptosis-resistant. Autophagy (cellular “self digestion”) has been associated with hypoxia during cardiac ischemia and metabolic stress as a survival mechanism. However, although autophagy is best characterized as a survival response, it can also function as a mechanism of programmed cell death. Our results show that autophagic cell death is induced by hypoxia in cancer cells with intact apoptotic machinery. We have analyzed two glioma cell lines (U87, U373), two breast cancer cell lines (MDA-MB-231, ZR75) and one embryonic cell line (HEK293) for cell death response in hypoxia (<1% O2). Under normoxic conditions, all five cell lines undergo etoposide-induced apoptosis whereas hypoxia fails to induce these apoptotic responses. All five cell lines induce an autophagic response and undergo cell death in hypoxia. Hypoxia-induced cell death was reduced upon treatment with the autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine, but not with the caspase inhibitor z-VAD-fmk. By knocking down the autophagy proteins Beclin-1 or ATG5, hypoxia-induced cell death was also reduced. The pro-cell death Bcl-2 family member BNIP3 (Bcl-2/adenovirus E1B 19kDa-interacting protein 3) is upregulated during hypoxia and is known to induce autophagy and cell death. We found that BNIP3 over-expression induced autophagy, while expression of BNIP3 siRNA or a dominant-negative form of BNIP3 reduced hypoxia-induced autophagy. Taken together, these results suggest that prolonged hypoxia induces autophagic cell death in apoptosis-competent cells, through a mechanism involving BNIP3.
PMCID: PMC3164855  PMID: 18059169 CAMSID: cams1903
autophagy; hypoxia; autophagic cell death; BNIP3; cancer
12.  The EGFR antibody cetuximab induces autophagy in cancer cells by downregulating HIF-1α and Bcl-2 and activating the beclin-1/hVps34 complex 
Cancer research  2010;70(14):5942-5952.
Autophagy is a regulated catabolic process triggered in cells deprived of nutrients or growth factors that govern nutrient uptake. Here we report that autophagy is induced by cetuximab, a therapeutic antibody that blocks EGFR function. Cancer cell treatment with cetuximab triggered autophagosome formation, conversion of microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 from its cytoplasmic to membrane-associated form, and increased acidic vesicular organelle formation. Autophagy occurred when cetuximab inhibited the class I PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway, but not when it inhibited only the MEK/Erk pathway, and it was accompanied by decreased levels of hypoxia inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1α) and Bcl-2. Stable overexpression of a HIF-1α mutant prevented cetuximab-induced autophagy and decrease in Bcl-2 levels. Knockdown of autophagy regulator beclin 1 or cell treatment with autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine, a class III PI3K (hVps34) inhibitor, also inhibited cetuximab-induced autophagy. Furthermore, knockdown of beclin 1 or Atg7 or treatment with the lysosome inhibitor chloroquine sensitized cancer cells to cetuximab-induced apoptosis. Mechanistic analysis argued that cetuximab acted by promoting an association between beclin 1 and hVps34, which was inhibited by overexpression of Bcl-2. Our findings suggest that the autophagy protects cancer cells from the pro-apoptotic effects of cetuximab.
PMCID: PMC2933174  PMID: 20634405
cetuximab; autophagy; EGFR
13.  A natural BH3-mimetic induces autophagy in apoptosis-resistant prostate cancer via modulating Bcl-2—Beclin1 interaction at endoplasmic reticulum 
Cell death and differentiation  2010;18(1):60-71.
A natural BH3-mimetic, small molecule inhibitor of Bcl-2, (-)-gossypol, shows promise in ongoing Phase II-III clinical trials for human prostate cancer. Here we show that (-)-gossypol preferentially induces autophagy in androgen-independent (AI) prostate cancer cells that have high levels of Bcl-2 and are resistant to apoptosis, both in vitro and in vivo, but not in androgen-dependent cells with low Bcl-2 and sensitive to apoptosis. The Bcl-2 inhibitor induces autophagy via blocking Bcl-2—Beclin1 interaction, together with downregulating Bcl-2, upregulating Beclin1 and activating the autophagic pathway. (-)-Gossypol-induced autophagy is Beclin1- and Atg5-dependent. Our results demonstrate for the first time that (-)-gossypol can also interrupt the interactions between Beclin1 and Bcl-2/Bcl-xL at endoplasmic reticulum, thus releasing the BH3-only pro-autophagic protein Beclin1, which in turn triggers the autophagic cascade. Oral administration of (-)-gossypol significantly inhibited the growth of AI prostate cancer xenografts, representing a promising new regimen for the treatment of human hormone-refractory prostate cancer with Bcl-2 overexpression. Our data provide new insights into the mode of cell death induced by Bcl-2 inhibitors, which would facilitate the rational design of clinical trials by selecting patients who are most likely to benefit from the Bcl-2-targeted molecular therapy.
PMCID: PMC2950895  PMID: 20577262
(-)-Gossypol; Bcl-2; Beclin1; Autophagy; Apoptosis
14.  A natural BH3 mimetic induces autophagy in apoptosis-resistant prostate cancer via modulating Bcl-2–Beclin1 interaction at endoplasmic reticulum 
Cell Death and Differentiation  2010;18(1):60-71.
A natural BH3-mimetic, small-molecule inhibitor of Bcl-2, (−)-gossypol, shows promise in ongoing phase II and III clinical trials for human prostate cancer. In this study we show that (−)-gossypol preferentially induces autophagy in androgen-independent (AI) prostate cancer cells that have high levels of Bcl-2 and are resistant to apoptosis, both in vitro and in vivo, but not in androgen-dependent (AD) cells with low Bcl-2 and sensitive to apoptosis. The Bcl-2 inhibitor induces autophagy through blocking Bcl-2–Beclin1 interaction, together with downregulating Bcl-2, upregulating Beclin1, and activating the autophagic pathway. The (−)-gossypol-induced autophagy is dependent on Beclin1 and Atg5. Our results show for the first time that (−)-gossypol can also interrupt the interactions between Beclin1 and Bcl-2/Bcl-xL at endoplasmic reticulum, thus releasing the BH3-only pro-autophagic protein Beclin1, which in turn triggers the autophagic cascade. Oral administration of (−)-gossypol significantly inhibited the growth of AI prostate cancer xenografts, representing a promising new regimen for the treatment of human hormone-refractory prostate cancer with Bcl-2 overexpression. Our data provide new insights into the mode of cell death induced by Bcl-2 inhibitors, which will facilitate the rational design of clinical trials by selecting patients who are most likely to benefit from the Bcl-2-targeted molecular therapy.
PMCID: PMC2950895  PMID: 20577262
(−)-gossypol; Bcl-2; Beclin1; autophagy; apoptosis
15.  Simultaneous Induction of Non-Canonical Autophagy and Apoptosis in Cancer Cells by ROS-Dependent ERK and JNK Activation 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(4):e9996.
Chemotherapy-induced reduction in tumor load is a function of apoptotic cell death, orchestrated by intracellular caspases. However, the effectiveness of these therapies is compromised by mutations affecting specific genes, controlling and/or regulating apoptotic signaling. Therefore, it is desirable to identify novel pathways of cell death, which could function in tandem with or in the absence of efficient apoptotic machinery. In this regard, recent evidence supports the existence of a novel cell death pathway termed autophagy, which is activated upon growth factor deprivation or exposure to genotoxic compounds. The functional relevance of this pathway in terms of its ability to serve as a stress response or a truly death effector mechanism is still in question; however, reports indicate that autophagy is a specialized form of cell death under certain conditions.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We report here the simultaneous induction of non-canonical autophagy and apoptosis in human cancer cells upon exposure to a small molecule compound that triggers intracellular hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) production. Whereas, silencing of beclin1 neither inhibited the hallmarks of autophagy nor the induction of cell death, Atg 7 or Ulk1 knockdown significantly abrogated drug-induced H2O2-mediated autophagy. Furthermore, we provide evidence that activated extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) are upstream effectors controlling both autophagy and apoptosis in response to elevated intracellular H2O2. Interestingly, inhibition of JNK activity reversed the increase in Atg7 expression in this system, thus indicating that JNK may regulate autophagy by activating Atg7. Of note, the small molecule compound triggered autophagy and apoptosis in primary cells derived from patients with lymphoma, but not in non-transformed cells.
Considering that loss of tumor suppressor beclin 1 is associated with neoplasia, the ability of this small molecule compound to engage both autophagic and apoptotic machineries via ROS production and subsequent activation of ERK and JNK could have potential translational implications.
PMCID: PMC2848860  PMID: 20368806
16.  Autophagy Fails to Alter Withaferin A-Mediated Lethality in Human Breast Cancer Cells 
Current cancer drug targets  2013;13(6):640-650.
We have shown previously that withaferin A (WA), which is a highly promising anticancer constituent of Ayurvedic medicine plant Withania somnifera, inhibits viability of cultured breast cancer cells in association with reactive oxygen species (ROS)-dependent apoptosis induction. Because ROS production is implicated in induction of autophagy, which is an evolutionary conserved process for bulk degradation of cellular components including organelles (e.g., mitochondria) and considered a valid cancer chemotherapeutic target, we questioned whether WA treatment resulted in autophagy induction. Indeed exposure of MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 human breast cancer cells as well as a spontaneously immortalized and non-tumorigenic normal human mammary epithelial cell line (MCF-10A) to pharmacologic concentration of WA resulted in autophagy as evidenced by transmission electron microscopy, cleavage of microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 isoform B (LC3B-II), and/or acridine orange staining. Inhibition of MDA-MB-231 xenograft growth in vivo by WA administration was also associated with a significant increase in level of total LC3 protein in the tumor. However, WA-mediated inhibition of MDA-MB-231 and MCF-7 cell viability was not compromised either by pharmacological suppression of autophagy using 3-methyl adenine or genetic repression of autophagy by RNA interference of Atg5, a critical component of the autophagic machinery. Finally, Beclin1 was dispensable for WA-mediated autophagy as well as inhibition of MDA-MB-231 cell viability. Based on these observations we conclude that autophagy induction fails to have any meaningful impact on WA-mediated lethality in breast cancer cells, which may be a therapeutic advantage because autophagy serves to protect against apoptosis by several anticancer agents.
PMCID: PMC3723758  PMID: 23607597
Withaferin A; Breast Cancer; MDA-MB-231; MCF-7; Autophagy; Atg5; Beclin1
17.  Endoplasmic reticulum stress sensitizes human esophageal cancer cell to radiation 
AIM: To investigate the role of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress in cancer radiotherapy and its molecular mechanism.
METHODS: Tunicamycin (TM) was applied to induce ER stress in human esophageal cancer cell line EC109, and the radiosensitization effects were detected by acute cell death and clonogenic survival assay. Cell cycle arrest induced by TM was determined by flow cytometric analysis after the cellular DNA content was labeled with propidium iodide. Apoptosis of EC109 cells induced by TM was detected by annexin V staining and Western blotting of caspase-3 and its substrate poly ADP-ribose polymerase. Autophagic response was determined by acridine orange (AO) staining and Western blotting of microtubule-associated protein-1 light chain-3 (LC3) and autophagy related gene 5 (ATG5). In order to test the biological function of autophagy, specific inhibitor or Beclin-1 knockdown was used to inhibit autophagy, and its effect on cell apoptosis was thus detected. Additionally, involvement of the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K)/Akt/mammalian target of the rapamycin (mTOR) pathway was also detected by Western blotting. Finally, male nude mice inoculated subcutaneously with EC109 cells were used to confirm cell model observations.
RESULTS: Our results showed that TM treatment enhanced cell death and reduced the colony survival fraction induced by ionizing radiation (IR), which suggested an obvious radiosensitization effect of TM. Moreover, TM and IR combination treatment led to a significant increase of G2/M phase and apoptotic cells, compared with IR alone. We also observed an increase of AO positive cells, and the protein level of LC3-II and ATG5 was induced by TM treatment, which suggested an autophagic response in EC109 cells. However, inhibition of autophagy by using a chemical inhibitor or Beclin-1 silencing led to increased cell apoptosis and decreased cell viability, which suggested a cytoprotective role of autophagy in stressed EC109 cells. Furthermore, TM treatment also activated mTORC1, and in turn reduced Akt phosphorylation, which suggested the PI3K/Akt/mTOR signal pathway was involved in the TM-induced autophagic response in EC109 cells. Tumor xenograft results also showed synergistic retarded tumor growth by TM treatment and IR, as well as the involvement of the PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway.
CONCLUSION: Our data showed that TM treatment sensitized human esophageal cancer cells to radiation via apoptosis and autophagy both in vitro and in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3607750  PMID: 23555162
Endoplasmic reticulum stress; Tunicamycin; Esophageal cancer; Radiosensitivity; Autophagy; Apoptosis
18.  1,1-Bis(3'-indolyl)-1-(p-substituted phenyl)methanes induce autophagic cell death in estrogen receptor negative breast cancer 
BMC Cancer  2010;10:669.
A novel series of methylene-substituted DIMs (C-DIMs), namely 1,1-bis(3'-indolyl)-1-(p-substituted phenyl)methanes containing t-butyl (DIM-C-pPhtBu) and phenyl (DIM-C-pPhC6H5) groups inhibit proliferation of invasive estrogen receptor-negative MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-453 human breast cancer cell lines with IC50 values between 1-5 uM. The main purpose of this study was to investigate the pathways of C-DIM-induced cell death.
The effects of the C-DIMs on apoptotic, necrotic and autophagic cell death were determined using caspase inhibitors, measurement of lactate dehydrogenase release, and several markers of autophagy including Beclin and light chain associated protein 3 expression (LC3).
The C-DIM compounds did not induce apoptosis and only DIM-C-pPhCF3 exhibited necrotic effects. However, treatment of MDA-MB-231 and MDA-MB-453 cells with C-DIMs resulted in accumulation of LC3-II compared to LC3-I protein, a characteristic marker of autophagy, and transient transfection of green fluorescent protein-LC3 also revealed that treatment with C-DIMs induced a redistribution of LC3 to autophagosomes after C-DIM treatment. In addition, the autofluorescent drug monodansylcadaverine (MDC), a specific autophagolysosome marker, accumulated in vacuoles after C-DIM treatment, and western blot analysis of lysates from cells treated with C-DIMs showed that the Beclin 1/Bcl-2 protein ratio increased.
The results suggest that C-DIM compounds may represent a new mechanism-based agent for treating drug-resistant ER-negative breast tumors through induction of autophagy.
PMCID: PMC3003661  PMID: 21129193
19.  Rottlerin-induced autophagy leads to the apoptosis in breast cancer stem cells: molecular mechanisms 
Molecular Cancer  2013;12:171.
Autophagy is an indispensable lysosomal self-digestion process involved in the degradation of aggregated proteins and damaged organelles. Autophagy is associated with the several pathological processes, including cancer. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) play significant roles in cancer initiation, progression and drug resistance. Recent studies have demonstrated the antitumor activities of plant-derived chemopreventive agent rottlerin (Rott). However, the molecular mechanism by which Rott induces autophagy in breast CSCs has not been investigated.
The objectives of this study were to examine the molecular mechanism by which Rott induces autophagy which leads to apoptosis in breast CSCs. Treatment of breast CSCs with Rott for 24 h resulted in a concentration dependent induction of autophagy, followed by apoptosis as measured by flow cytometry. Electron microscopy confirmed the presence of autophagosomes in Rott treated breast CSCs. Western blot analysis showed that Rott treatment increased the expression of LC3, Beclin-1 and Atg12 that are accumulated during autophagy. Prolonged exposure of breast CSCs to Rott caused apoptosis which was associated with the suppression of phosphorylated Akt and mTOR, upregulation of phosphorylated AMPK, and downregulation of anti-apoptosis Bcl-2, Bcl-XL, XIAP and cIAP-1. Knock-down of Atg7 or Beclin-1 by shRNA inhibited Rott-induced autophagy at 24 h. Our study also demonstrates that pre-treatment of breast CSCs with autophagosome inhibitors 3-methyladenine and Bafilomycin, as well as protein synthesis inhibitor cycloheximide inhibited Rott-induced autophagy and apoptosis. Rott induces autophagy via extensive cytoplasmic vacuolization in breast CSCs. Molecular docking results between C2-domain of protein kinase C-delta and Rott indicated that both hydrogen bonding and hydrophobic interactions contributed significantly for ligand binding with minimum binding affinity of ≈ 7.5 Kcal/mol. Although, autophagy inhibitors suppress the formation of cytoplasmic vacuolization and autophagy in breast CSCs, the potency of Rott to induce autophagy and apoptosis might be based on its capability to activate several pathways such as AMPK and proteasome inhibition.
A better understanding of the relationship between autophagy and apoptosis would eventually allow us to discover novel drugs for the treatment of breast cancer by eliminating CSCs.
PMCID: PMC3914415  PMID: 24359639
3-methyladenine (3-MA); Autophagy; Bafilomycin (Baf); Beclin-1; Cycloheximide (CHX); LC3; AMPK; Atg12
20.  Role of Bcl-xL/Beclin-1 in Interplay between Apoptosis and Autophagy in Oxaliplatin and Bortezomib-induced Cell Death 
Biochemical pharmacology  2014;88(2):178-188.
Recent studies indicate that a complex relationship exists between autophagy and apoptosis. In this study we investigated a regulatory relationship between autophagy and apoptosis in colorectal cancer cells utilizing molecular and biochemical approaches. For this study, human colorectal carcinoma HCT116 and CX-1 cells were treated with two chemotherapeutic agents—oxaliplatin, which induces apoptosis, and bortezomib, which triggers both apoptosis and autophagy. A combinatorial treatment of oxaliplatin and bortezomib caused a synergistic induction of apoptosis which was mediated through an increase in caspase activation. The combinational treatment of oxaliplatin and bortezomib promoted the JNK-Bcl-xL-Bax pathway which modulated the synergistic effect through the mitochondria-dependent apoptotic pathway. JNK signaling led to Bcl-xL phosphorylation at serine 62, oligomerization of Bax, alteration of mitochondrial membrane potential, and subsequent cytochrome c release. Overexpression of dominant-negative mutant of Bcl-xL (S62A), but not dominant-positive mutant of Bcl-xL (S62D), suppressed cytochrome c release and synergistic death effect. Interestingly, Bcl-xL also affected autophagy through alteration of interaction with Beclin-1. Beclin-1 was dissociated from Bcl-xL and initiated autophagy during treatment with oxaliplatin and bortezomib. However, activated caspase 8 cleaved Beclin-1 and suppressed Beclin-1-associated autophagy and enhanced apoptosis. A combinatorial treatment of oxaliplatin and bortezomib-induced Beclin-1 cleavage was abolished in Beclin-1 double mutant (D133AA/D149A) knock-in HCT116 cells, restoring the autophagy-promoting function of Beclin-1 and suppressing the apoptosis induced by the combination therapy. In addition, the combinatorial treatment significantly inhibited colorectal cancer xenografts’ tumor growth. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms of crosstalk between apoptosis and autophagy will support the application of combinatorial treatment to colorectal cancer.
PMCID: PMC3969586  PMID: 24486574
Oxaliplatin; Bortezomib; Mitochondria-dependent pathway; Bcl-xL; Beclin-1
21.  mda-7/IL-24: Multifunctional cancer-specific apoptosis-inducing cytokine 
Pharmacology & therapeutics  2006;111(3):596-628.
“Differentiation therapy” provides a unique and potentially effective, less toxic treatment paradigm for cancer. Moreover, combining “differentiation therapy” with molecular approaches presents an unparalleled opportunity to identify and clone genes mediating cancer growth control, differentiation, senescence, and programmed cell death (apoptosis). Subtraction hybridization applied to human melanoma cells induced to terminally differentiate by treatment with fibroblast interferon (IFN-β) plus mezerein (MEZ) permitted cloning of melanoma differentiation associated (mda) genes. Founded on its novel properties, one particular mda gene, mda-7, now classified as a member of the interleukin (IL)-10 gene family (IL-24) because of conserved structure, chromosomal location, and cytokine-like properties has become the focus of attention of multiple laboratories. When administered by transfection or adenovirus-transduction into a spectrum of tumor cell types, melanoma differentiation associated gene-7/interleukin-24 (mda-7/IL-24) induces apoptosis, whereas no toxicity is apparent in normal cells. mda-7/IL-24 displays potent “bystander antitumor” activity and also has the capacity to enhance radiation lethality, to induce immune-regulatory activities, and to inhibit tumor angiogenesis. Based on these remarkable attributes and effective antitumor therapy in animal models, this cytokine has taken the important step of entering the clinic. In a Phase I clinical trial, intratumoral injections of adenovirus-administered mda-7/IL-24 (Ad.mda-7) was safe, elicited tumor-regulatory and immune-activating processes, and provided clinically significant activity. This review highlights our current understanding of the diverse activities and properties of this novel cytokine, with potential to become a prominent gene therapy for cancer.
PMCID: PMC1781515  PMID: 16464504
mda-7/IL-24; Differentiation therapy of cancer; Programmed cell death; Antitumor bystander activity; Radiosensitization; Angiogenesis; Cell signaling; Phase I clinical trial
22.  Cisplatin-Induced Apoptosis Inhibits Autophagy, Which Acts as a Pro-Survival Mechanism in Human Melanoma Cells 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(2):e57236.
The interplay between a non-lethal autophagic response and apoptotic cell death is still a matter of debate in cancer cell biology. In the present study performed on human melanoma cells, we investigate the role of basal or stimulated autophagy in cisplatin-induced cytotoxicity, as well as the contribution of cisplatin-induced activation of caspases 3/7 and conventional calpains. The results show that, while down-regulating Beclin-1, Atg14 and LC3-II, cisplatin treatment inhibits the basal autophagic response, impairing a physiological pro-survival response. Consistently, exogenously stimulated autophagy, obtained with trehalose or calpains inhibitors (MDL-28170 and calpeptin), protects from cisplatin-induced apoptosis, and such a protection is reverted by inhibiting autophagy with 3-methyladenine or ATG5 silencing. In addition, during trehalose-stimulated autophagy, the cisplatin-induced activation of calpains is abrogated, suggesting the existence of a feedback loop between the autophagic process and calpains. On the whole, our results demonstrate that in human melanoma cells autophagy may function as a beneficial stress response, hindered by cisplatin-induced death mechanisms. In a therapeutic perspective, these findings suggest that the efficacy of cisplatin-based polychemotherapies for melanoma could be potentiated by inhibitors of autophagy.
PMCID: PMC3577730  PMID: 23437349
23.  PERK-dependent regulation of MDA-7/IL-24-induced autophagy in primary human glioma cells 
Autophagy  2008;4(4):513-515.
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 studies by further defines 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 were dependent on activation of JNK1-3 with subsequent activation of BAX and the induction of mitochondrial dysfunction. Activation of JNK1-3 was dependent upon protein kinase R-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK) and GST-MDA-7 lethality was suppressed in PERK-/- cells. GST-MDA-7 caused PERK-dependent vacuolization of LC3-expressing endosomes whose formation was suppressed by incubation with 3-methyladenine, expression of HSP70 or of BiP/GRP78, or by 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 demonstrate that GST-MDA-7 induces an ER stress response that, via the induction of autophagy, is causal in the activation of pro-apoptotic pathways that converge on the mitochondrion and ultimately culminate in decreased glioma cell survival.
PMCID: PMC2674579  PMID: 18299661
autophagy; caspase; ER stress; cell death
24.  Autophagy Pathway Is Required for IL-6 Induced Neuroendocrine Differentiation and Chemoresistance of Prostate Cancer LNCaP Cells 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88556.
Prostate cancer (PCa) cells undergoing neuroendocrine differentiation (NED) are clinically relevant to the development of relapsed castration-resistant PCa. Increasing evidences show that autophagy involves in the development of neuroendocrine (NE) tumors, including PCa. To clarify the effect of autophagy on NED, androgen-sensitive PCa LNCaP cells were examined. Treatment of LNCaP cells with IL-6 resulted in an induction of autophagy. In the absence of androgen, IL-6 caused an even stronger activation of autophagy. Similar result was identified in NED induction. Inhibition of autophagy with chloroquine (CQ) markedly decreased NED. This observation was confirmed by beclin1 and Atg5 silencing experiments. Further supporting the role of autophagy in NED, we found that LC3 was up-regulated in PCa tissue that had relapsed after androgen-deprivation therapy when compared with their primary tumor counterpart. LC3 staining in relapsed PCa tissue showed punctate pattern similar to the staining of chromogranin A (CgA), a marker for NED cells. Moreover, autophagy inhibition induced the apoptosis of IL-6 induced NE differentiated PCa cells. Consistently, inhibition of autophagy by knockdown of beclin1 or Atg5 sensitized NE differentiated LNCaP cells to etoposide, a chemotherapy drug. To identify the mechanisms, phosphorylation of IL-6 downstream targets was analyzed. An increase in phospho-AMPK and a decrease in phospho-mTOR were found, which implies that IL-6 regulates autophagy through the AMPK/mTOR pathway. Most important to this study is the discovery of REST, a neuronal gene-specific transcriptional repressor that is involved in autophagy activation. REST was down-regulated in IL-6 treatment. Knockdown experiments suggest that REST is critical to NED and autophagy activation by IL-6. Together, our studies imply that autophagy is involved in PCa progression and plays a cytoprotective role when NED is induced in PCa cells by IL-6 treatment. These results reveal the potential of targeting autophagy as part of a combined therapeutic regime for NE tumors.
PMCID: PMC3925144  PMID: 24551118
25.  Bcl-2:Beclin 1 complex: multiple, mechanisms regulating autophagy/apoptosis toggle switch 
Cancer cells have developed novel mechanisms for evading chemotherapy-induced apoptosis and autophagy-associated cell death pathways. Upon the discovery that chemotherapeutics could target these cell death pathways in a manner that was not mutually exclusive, new discoveries about the interrelationship between these two pathways are emerging. Key proteins originally thought to be “autophagy-related proteins” are now found to be involved in either inducing or inhibiting apoptosis. Similarly, apoptosis inhibiting proteins can also block autophagy-associated cell death. One example is the complex formed by the autophagy protein, Beclin 1, and anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2, which leads to inhibition of autophagy-associated cell death. Researchers have been investigating additional mechanisms that form/disrupt this complex in order to better design chemotherapeutics. This review will highlight the role Bcl-2 and Beclin 1 play in cancer development and drug resistance, as well as the role the Bcl-2:Beclin 1 complex in the switch between autophagy and apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC3304572  PMID: 22485198
Apoptosis; autophagy; Bcl-2; Beclin 1; Gossypol; BH3 mimetics

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