Unresectable colorectal liver metastases remain a major unresolved issue and more effective novel regimens are urgently needed. While screening synergistic drug combinations for colon cancer therapy, we identified a novel multidrug treatment for colon cancer: chemotherapeutic agent melphalan in combination with proteasome inhibitor bortezomib and mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) inhibitor rapamycin. We investigated the mechanisms of synergistic antitumor efficacy during the multidrug treatment. All experiments were performed with highly metastatic human colon cancer CX-1 and HCT116 cells, and selected critical experiments were repeated with human colon cancer stem Tu-22 cells and mouse embryo fibroblast (MEF) cells. We used immunochemical techniques to investigate a cross-talk between apoptosis and autophagy during the multidrug treatment. We observed that melphalan triggered apoptosis, bortezomib induced apoptosis and autophagy, rapamycin caused autophagy and the combinatorial treatment-induced synergistic apoptosis, which was mediated through an increase in caspase activation. We also observed that mitochondrial dysfunction induced by the combination was linked with altered cellular metabolism, which induced adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation, resulting in Beclin-1 phosphorylated at Ser 93/96. Interestingly, Beclin-1 phosphorylated at Ser 93/96 is sufficient to induce Beclin-1 cleavage by caspase-8, which switches off autophagy to achieve the synergistic induction of apoptosis. Similar results were observed with the essential autophagy gene, autophagy-related protein 7, -deficient MEF cells. The multidrug treatment-induced Beclin-1 cleavage was abolished in Beclin-1 double-mutant (D133A/D146A) knock-in HCT116 cells, restoring the autophagy-promoting function of Beclin-1 and suppressing the apoptosis induced by the combination therapy. These observations identify a novel mechanism for AMPK-induced apoptosis through interplay between autophagy and apoptosis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology
- Cancer Research