Pancreatic cancer is a complex genetic disorder that is characterized by rapid progression, invasiveness, resistance to treatment and high molecular heterogeneity. Various agents have been used in clinical trials showing only modest improvements with respect to gemcitabine-based chemotherapy, which continues to be the standard first-line treatment for this disease. However, owing to the overwhelming molecular alterations that have been reported in pancreatic cancer, there is increasing focus on targeting molecular pathways and networks, rather than individual genes or gene-products with a combination of novel chemotherapeutic agents.
Cells were transfected with small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) targeting the individual CK2 subunits. The CK2 protein expression levels were determined and the effect of its down-regulation on chemosensitization of pancreatic cancer cells was investigated.
The present study examined the impact on cell death following depletion of the individual protein kinase CK2 catalytic subunits alone or in combination with gemcitabine and the molecular mechanisms by which this effect is achieved. Depletion of the CK2α or -α' subunits in combination with gemcitabine resulted in marked apoptotic and necrotic cell death in PANC-1 cells. We show that the mechanism of cell death is associated with deregulation of distinct survival signaling pathways. Cellular depletion of CK2α leads to phosphorylation and activation of MKK4/JNK while down-regulation of CK2α' exerts major effects on the PI3K/AKT pathway.
Results reported here show that the two catalytic subunits of CK2 contribute differently to enhance gemcitabine-induced cell death, the reduced level of CK2α' being the most effective and that simultaneous reduction in the expression of CK2 and other survival factors might be an effective therapeutic strategy for enhancing the sensitivity of human pancreatic cancer towards chemotherapeutic agents.