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1.  Histone deacetylase inhibition synergistically enhances pemetrexed cytotoxicity through induction of apoptosis and autophagy in non-small cell lung cancer 
Molecular Cancer  2014;13(1):230.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Pemetrexed, a multi-target folate antagonist, has demonstrated efficacy in NSCLC histological subtypes characterized by low thymidylate synthase (TS) expression. Among many other potential targets, histone deacetylase inhibitors (HDACi) modulate TS expression, potentially sensitizing to the cytotoxic action of anti-cancer drugs that target the folate pathway, such as pemetrexed. Since high levels of TS have been linked to clinical resistance to pemetrexed in NSCLC, herein we investigated the molecular and functional effects of combined pemetrexed and ITF2357, a pan-HDACi currently in clinical trials as an anti-cancer agent.
In NSCLC cell lines, HDAC inhibition by ITF2357 induced histone and tubulin acetylation and downregulated TS expression at the mRNA and protein level. In combination experiments in vitro ITF2357 and pemetrexed demonstrated sequence-dependent synergistic growth-inhibitory effects, with the sequence pemetrexed followed by ITF2357 inducing a strikingly synergistic reduction in cell viability and induction of both apoptosis and autophagy in all cell line models tested, encompassing both adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Conversely, simultaneous administration of both drugs achieved frankly antagonistic effects, while the sequence of ITF2357 followed by pemetrexed had additive to slightly synergistic growth-inhibitory effects only in certain cell lines. Similarly, highly synergistic growth inhibition was also observed in patient-derived lung cancer stem cells (LCSC) exposed to pemetrexed followed by ITF2357. In terms of molecular mechanisms of interaction, the synergistic growth-inhibitory effects observed were only partially related to TS modulation by ITF2357, as genetic silencing of TS expression potentiated growth inhibition by either pemetrexed or ITF2357 and, to a lesser extent, by their sequential combination. Genetic and pharmacological approaches provided an interesting link between the autophagic and apoptotic pathways, and showed that sequential pemetrexed/ITF2357 causes a toxic form of autophagy with consequent activation of a caspase-dependent apoptotic program. In vivo experiments in NSCLC xenografts confirmed that sequential pemetrexed/ITF2357 is feasible and results in increased inhibition of tumor growth and increased mice survival.
Overall, these data provide a strong rationale for the clinical development of sequential schedules employing pemetrexed followed by HDACi in NSCLC.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1476-4598-13-230) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4198757  PMID: 25301686
HDAC inhibitors; ITF2357; Givinostat; Pemetrexed; Apoptosis; Autophagy; Synergism; NSCLC
2.  Removal of the BH4 Domain from Bcl-2 Protein Triggers an Autophagic Process that Impairs Tumor Growth12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2013;15(3):315-327.
Here, we show that forced expression of a B-cell lymphoma 2 (bcl-2) protein lacking residues 1 to 36 at the N-terminal, including the entire Bcl-2 homology 4 (BH4) domain, determines reduction of in vitro and in vivo human melanoma growth. Noteworthy, melanoma cells in vivo exhibit markedly increased autophagy, as response to expression of bcl-2 protein deleted of its BH4 domain. This observation led to the identification of a novel gain of function for bcl-2 protein lacking the BH4 domain. In particular, upon different autophagic stimuli in vitro, overexpression of bcl-2 protein deleted of BH4 domain induces autophagosome accumulation, conversion of microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3B-II, reduced expression of p62/SQSTM1 protein, and thereby enhanced autophagic flux. The relevance of Beclin-1 is evidenced by the fact that 1) the autophagy-promoting and growth-inhibiting properties are partially rescued by Beclin-1 knockdown in cells expressing bcl-2 protein lacking the BH4 domain, 2) Beclin-1 only interacts with wild-type but not with deleted bcl-2, and 3) BH4 domain removal from bcl-2 protein does not influence in vitro and in vivo growth of tumor cells expressing low levels of endogenous Beclin-1. These results provide new insight into molecular mechanism of bcl-2 functions and represent a rationale for the development of agents interfering with the BH4 domain of bcl-2 protein.
PMCID: PMC3593154  PMID: 23479509
3.  Bcl-2 Regulates HIF-1α Protein Stabilization in Hypoxic Melanoma Cells via the Molecular Chaperone HSP90 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11772.
Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1 (HIF-1) is a transcription factor that is a critical mediator of the cellular response to hypoxia. Enhanced levels of HIF-1α, the oxygen-regulated subunit of HIF-1, is often associated with increased tumour angiogenesis, metastasis, therapeutic resistance and poor prognosis. It is in this context that we previously demonstrated that under hypoxia, bcl-2 protein promotes HIF-1/Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF)-mediated tumour angiogenesis.
Methodology/Principal Findings
By using human melanoma cell lines and their stable or transient derivative bcl-2 overexpressing cells, the current study identified HIF-1α protein stabilization as a key regulator for the induction of HIF-1 by bcl-2 under hypoxia. We also demonstrated that bcl-2-induced accumulation of HIF-1α protein during hypoxia was not due to an increased gene transcription or protein synthesis. In fact, it was related to a modulation of HIF-1α protein expression at a post-translational level, indeed its degradation rate was faster in the control lines than in bcl-2 transfectants. The bcl-2-induced HIF-1α stabilization in response to low oxygen tension conditions was achieved through the impairment of ubiquitin-dependent HIF-1α degradation involving the molecular chaperone HSP90, but it was not dependent on the prolyl hydroxylation of HIF-1α protein. We also showed that bcl-2, HIF-1α and HSP90 proteins form a tri-complex that may contribute to enhancing the stability of the HIF-1α protein in bcl-2 overexpressing clones under hypoxic conditions. Finally, by using genetic and pharmacological approaches we proved that HSP90 is involved in bcl-2-dependent stabilization of HIF-1α protein during hypoxia, and in particular the isoform HSP90β is the main player in this phenomenon.
We identified the stabilization of HIF-1α protein as a mechanism through which bcl-2 induces the activation of HIF-1 in hypoxic tumour cells involving the β isoform of molecular chaperone HSP90.
PMCID: PMC2910721  PMID: 20668552
4.  Toll-like Receptor 3 Regulates Angiogenesis and Apoptosis in Prostate Cancer Cell Lines through Hypoxia-Inducible Factor 1α1 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2010;12(7):539-549.
Toll-like receptors (TLRs) recognize microbial/viral-derived components that trigger innate immune response and conflicting data implicate TLR agonists in cancer, either as protumor or antitumor agents. We previously demonstrated that TLR3 activation mediated by its agonist poly(I:C) induces antitumor signaling, leading to apoptosis of prostate cancer cells LNCaP and PC3 with much more efficiency in the former than in the second more aggressive line. The transcription factor hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1) regulates several cellular processes, including apoptosis, in response to hypoxia and to other stimuli also in normoxic conditions. Here we describe a novel protumor machinery triggered by TLR3 activation in PC3 cells consisting of increased expression of the specific I.3 isoform of HIF-1α and nuclear accumulation of HIF-1 complex in normoxia, resulting in reduced apoptosis and in secretion of functional vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). Moreover, we report that, in the less aggressive LNCaP cells, TLR3 activation fails to induce nuclear accumulation of HIF-1α. However, the transfection of I.3 isoform of hif-1α in LNCaP cells allows poly(I:C)-induced HIF-1 activation, resulting in apoptosis protection and VEGF secretion. Altogether, our findings demonstrate that differences in the basal level of HIF-1α expression in different prostate cancer cell lines underlie their differential response to TLR3 activation, suggesting a correlation between different stages of malignancy, hypoxic gene expression, and beneficial responsiveness to TLR agonists.
PMCID: PMC2907580  PMID: 20651983
5.  Induction of Apoptosis in Human Cancer Cells by Candidaspongiolide, a Novel Sponge Polyketide 
Candidaspongiolide (CAN), a novel polyketide from a marine sponge, is the active component of a mixture that was found to be potently cytotoxic in the National Cancer Institute’s 60-cell-line screen.
Effects of CAN on U251 glioma and HCT116 colorectal cancer cells and on normal fibroblasts were assessed using radiolabeling studies to measure protein synthesis, clonogenic assays to measure cell survival, flow cytometry of annexin V– and propidium iodide–stained cells to measure apoptosis, and western blots in the presence or absence of specific inhibitors to assess accumulation and phosphorylation of potential downstream target proteins.
CAN inhibited protein synthesis and potently induced apoptosis in both U251 and HCT116 cells, the latter in part by a caspase 12–dependent pathway. For example, 25%–30% of U251 or HCT116 cells became apoptotic after 24 hours of treatment with 100 nM CAN. CAN also rapidly induced sustained phosphorylation of eukaryotic translation initiation factor-2 (eIF2)-α at Ser51 and of the translation elongation factor eEF2 at Thr56, which could contribute to its dose-dependent inhibition of protein synthesis. Stable expression of dominant-negative eIF2α was sufficient to prevent CAN-induced eIF2α phosphorylation and induction of apoptosis but insufficient to prevent inhibition of protein synthesis. CAN induction of eIF2α phosphorylation did not occur by a classic endoplasmic reticulum stress pathway. However, an inhibitor of and small-interfering RNAs to the double-stranded RNA–dependent protein kinase PKR prevented CAN-mediated eIF2α phosphorylation and apoptosis, respectively. Although CAN inhibited protein synthesis in both cancer cells and normal human fibroblasts, it induced eIF2α phosphorylation and apoptosis only in cancer cells.
CAN triggers PKR/eIF2α/caspase 12–dependent apoptosis and inhibits protein synthesis in cancer cells but only inhibits protein synthesis in normal cells.
PMCID: PMC2720712  PMID: 18728285
6.  Growth-Inhibitory and Antiangiogenic Activity of the MEK Inhibitor PD0325901 in Malignant Melanoma with or without BRAF Mutations12 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2009;11(8):720-731.
The Raf/MEK/ERK pathway is an important mediator of tumor cell proliferation and angiogenesis. Here, we investigated the growth-inhibitory and antiangiogenic properties of PD0325901, a novel MEK inhibitor, in human melanoma cells. PD0325901 effects were determined in a panel of melanoma cell lines with different genetic aberrations. PD0325901 markedly inhibited ERK phosphorylation and growth of both BRAF mutant and wild-type melanoma cell lines, with IC50 in the nanomolar range even in the least responsive models. Growth inhibition was observed both in vitro and in vivo in xenograft models, regardless of BRAF mutation status, and was due to G1-phase cell cycle arrest and subsequent induction of apoptosis. Cell cycle (cyclin D1, c-Myc, and p27KIP1) and apoptosis (Bcl-2 and survivin) regulators were modulated by PD0325901 at the protein level. Gene expression profiling revealed profound modulation of several genes involved in the negative control of MAPK signaling and melanoma cell differentiation, suggesting alternative, potentially relevant mechanisms of action. Finally, PD0325901 inhibited the production of the proangiogenic factors vascular endothelial growth factor and interleukin 8 at a transcriptional level. In conclusion, PD0325901 exerts potent growth-inhibitory, proapoptotic, and antiangiogenic activity in melanoma lines, regardless of their BRAF mutation status. Deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms of action of MEK inhibitors will likely translate into more effective treatment strategies for patients experiencing malignant melanoma.
PMCID: PMC2713590  PMID: 19649202
7.  Involvement of PI3K and MAPK Signaling in bcl-2-induced Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Expression in Melanoma Cells 
Molecular Biology of the Cell  2005;16(9):4153-4162.
We have previously demonstrated that bcl-2 overexpression in tumor cells exposed to hypoxia increases the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) gene through the hypoxia-inducible factor-1 (HIF-1). In this article, we demonstrate that exposure of bcl-2 overexpressing melanoma cells to hypoxia induced phosphorylation of AKT and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2 proteins. On the contrary, no modulation of these pathways by bcl-2 was observed under normoxic conditions. When HIF-1α expression was reduced by RNA interference, AKT and ERK1/2 phosphorylation were still induced by bcl-2. Pharmacological inhibition of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling pathways reduced the induction of VEGF and HIF-1 in response to bcl-2 overexpression in hypoxia. No differences were observed between control and bcl-2-overexpressing cells in normoxia, in terms of VEGF protein secretion and in response to PI3K and MAPK inhibitors. We also demonstrated that RNA interference-mediated down-regulation of bcl-2 expression resulted in a decrease in the ERK1/2 phosphorylation and VEGF secretion only in bcl-2-overexpressing cell exposed to hypoxia but not in control cells. In conclusion, our results indicate, for the first time, that bcl-2 synergizes with hypoxia to promote expression of angiogenesis factors in melanoma cells through both PI3K- and MAPK-dependent pathways.
PMCID: PMC1196326  PMID: 15987743
8.  Lonidamine Causes Inhibition of Angiogenesis-Related Endothelial Cell Functions1 
Neoplasia (New York, N.Y.)  2004;6(5):513-522.
The aim of this study was to assess whether lonidamine (LND) interferes with some steps in angiogenesis progression. We report here, for the first time, that LND inhibited angiogenic-related endothelial cell functions in a dose-dependent manner (1–50 µg/ml). In particular, LND decreased proliferation, migration, invasion, and morphogenesis on matrigel of different endothelial cell lines. Zymographic and Western blot analysis assays showed that LND treatment produced a reduction in the secretion of matrix metalloproteinase- 2 and metalloproteinase-9 by endothelial cells. Vessel formation in a matrigel plug was also reduced by LND. The viability, migration, invasion, and matrix metalloproteinase production of different tumor cell lines were not affected by low doses of LND (1–10 µg/ml), whereas 50 µg/ml LND, which corresponds to the dose used in clinical management of tumors, triggered apoptosis both in endothelial and tumor cells. Together, these data demonstrate that LND is a compound that interferes with endothelial cell functions, both at low and high doses. Thus, the effect of LND on endothelial cell functions, previously undescribed, may be a significant contributor to the antitumor effect of LND observed for clinical management of solid tumors.
PMCID: PMC1531654  PMID: 15548359
Angiogenesis; lonidamine; endothelial cells; metalloproteinases; cancer

Results 1-8 (8)