Potentiation of the antitumor effects of both selective cyclooxygenase-1 and cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors in human hepatic cancer cells by inhibition of the MEK/ERK pathway

Antonella Cusimano, Daniela Foderà, Natale D'Alessandro, Nadia Lampiasi, Antonina Azzolina, Giuseppe Montalto, Melchiorre Cervello
Cancer Biology & Therapy 2007, 6 (9): 1461-8
The molecular mechanisms behind the anti-neoplastic effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are not completely understood and cannot be explained by the inhibition of the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes COX-1 and COX-2 alone. We previously reported that both the selective COX-1 inhibitor SC-560 and the selective COX-2 inhibitor CAY10404 exhibit anti-tumor effects in human hepatoma cells. NSAID inhibitors have many COX-independent actions and, among others, the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathways are targets for NSAIDs. Here, we examined the role of MEK/ERK1/2 signaling in the anti-neoplastic effects of both selective COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors in two human hepatoma cell lines. Treatment of hepatoma cells with the selective COX-1 inhibitor SC-560, as well as with the selective COX-2 inhibitor CAY10404, was associated with activation of ERK1/2 in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Treatment with COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors in the presence of the selective MEK1/2 inhibitor U0126 effectively suppressed ERK1/2 activation and combinations of either SC-560 or CAY10404 with U0126 resulted in synergistic effects on cell growth inhibition and induction of apoptosis. In HuH-6 hepatoma cells the combination-induced apoptosis was associated with caspase-9 and -3 activation, PARP cleavage, release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria into the cytosol and down-regulation of survivin and beta-catenin levels. In conclusion, our study showed that growth inhibitory concentrations of selective COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors increased ERK1/2 phosphorylation in hepatoma cells, and that inhibition of the MEK/ERK signaling pathway potentiates the antitumor activity of both types of inhibitors. Therefore, our results provide preclinical support for a combined chemotherapeutic approach with selective NSAIDs and MEK inhibitors for the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma.

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