Synergistic cooperation between sunitinib and cisplatin promotes apoptotic cell death in human medullary thyroid cancer

Alessia Lopergolo, Valentina Nicolini, Enrica Favini, Laura Dal Bo, Monica Tortoreto, Denis Cominetti, Marco Folini, Paola Perego, Vittoria Castiglioni, Eugenio Scanziani, Maria Grazia Borrello, Nadia Zaffaroni, Giuliana Cassinelli, Cinzia Lanzi
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2014, 99 (2): 498-509

CONTEXT: Tyrosine kinase inhibitors represent a new treatment option for patients with advanced medullary thyroid cancer (MTC). However, cures have not been achieved with current available agents used in monotherapy.

OBJECTIVE: Because RET has been shown to negatively regulate CD95 death receptor activation in preclinical models of RET-dependent MTC, we investigated the potential of the combination approach with the RET-targeting tyrosine kinase inhibitor sunitinib and cisplatin to enhance apoptosis activation through the extrinsic pathway.

DESIGN: The effects of sunitinib and cisplatin were examined in human MTC cell lines harboring oncogenic RET mutations. Experiments were designed to determine drug effects on RET signaling, cell growth, apoptosis, autophagy, and tumor growth in mice and to investigate the mechanisms of the drug interaction.

RESULTS: Sunitinib and cisplatin synergistically inhibited the growth of MZ-CRC-1 cells harboring the RET M918T activating mutation. The combination enhanced apoptosis activation through CD95-mediated, caspase-8-dependent pathway. Moreover, sunitinib induced a severe perturbation of the autophagic flux characterized by autophagosome accumulation and a remarkable lysosomal dysfunction, which was further enhanced, with lysosomal leakage induction, by cisplatin. Administration of the drug combination to mice xenografted with MZ-CRC-1 cells improved the antitumor efficacy, as compared with single-agent treatments, inducing complete responses in 30% of the treated mice, a significant increase in caspase-3 activation (P < .01 vs cisplatin, and P < .0005 vs sunitinib) and apoptosis in tumor cells.

CONCLUSIONS: Addition of cisplatin to sunitinib potentiates apoptotic cell death and has promising preclinical activity in MTCs harboring the RET M918T oncogene.

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