Compound C induces protective autophagy in cancer cells through AMPK inhibition-independent blockade of Akt/mTOR pathway

Ljubica Vucicevic, Maja Misirkic, Kristina Janjetovic, Urosh Vilimanovich, Emina Sudar, Esma Isenovic, Marko Prica, Ljubica Harhaji-Trajkovic, Tamara Kravic-Stevovic, Vladimir Bumbasirevic, Vladimir Trajkovic
Autophagy 2011, 7 (1): 40-50
In the present study, we report that compound C, an inhibitor of a key intracellular energy sensor AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), can induce autophagy in cancer cells. The induction of autophagy in U251 human glioma cell line was demonstrated by acridine orange staining of intracellular acidic vesicles, Beclin 1 induction, p62 decrease and conversion of LC3-I to autophagosome-associated LC3-II in the presence of proteolysis inhibitors. The presence of autophagosome-like vesicles was confirmed by transmission electron microscopy. Compound C-mediated inhibition of AMPK and raptor in U251 cells was associated with paradoxical decrease in phosphorylation of AMPK/raptor-repressed mTOR, a major negative regulator of autophagy, and its downstream target p70S6K. The phosphorylation of an mTOR activator Akt and the PI3K-activating kinase Src was also impaired in compound C-treated cells. The siRNA-mediated AMPK silencing did not reduce the activity of the Akt/mTOR/p70S6K pathway and AMPK activators metformin and AIC AR failed to block compound C-induced autophagy. Autophagy inhibitors bafilomycin and chloroquine significantly increased the cytotoxicity of compound C towards U251 cells, as confirmed by increase in lactate dehydrogenase release, DNA fragmentation and caspase-3 activation. Similar effects of compound C were also observed in C6 rat glioma, L929 mouse fibrosarcoma and B16 mouse melanoma cell lines. Since compound C has previously been reported to suppress AMPK-dependent autophagy in different cell types, our findings suggest that the effects of compound C on autophagy might be dose-, cell type- and/or context-dependent. By demonstrating the ability of compound C to induce autophagic response in cancer cells via AMPK inhibition-independent downregulation of Akt/mTOR pathway, our results warrant caution when using compound C to inhibit AMPK-dependent cellular responses, but also support further exploration of compound C and related molecules as potential anticancer agents.

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