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Mol Cancer Res. 2005 May;3(5):287-96.

Sphingosine-1-phosphate lyase regulates sensitivity of human cells to select chemotherapy drugs in a p38-dependent manner.

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  • 1Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri, 303 Tucker Hall, Columbia, MO 65211-7400, USA.


Resistance to cisplatin is a common problem that limits its usefulness in cancer therapy. Molecular genetic studies in the model organism Dictyostelium discoideum have established that modulation of sphingosine kinase or sphingosine-1-phosphate (S-1-P) lyase, by disruption or overexpression, results in altered cellular sensitivity to this widely used drug. Parallel changes in sensitivity were observed for the related compound carboplatin but not for other chemotherapy drugs tested. Sensitivity to cisplatin could also be potentiated pharmacologically with dimethylsphingosine, a sphingosine kinase inhibitor. We now have validated these studies in cultured human cell lines. HEK293 or A549 lung cancer cells expressing human S-1-P lyase (hSPL) show an increase in sensitivity to cisplatin and carboplatin as predicted from the earlier model studies. The hSPL-overexpressing cells were also more sensitive to doxorubicin but not to vincristine or chlorambucil. Studies using inhibitors to specific mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) show that the increased cisplatin sensitivity in the hSPL-overexpressing cells is mediated by p38 and to a lesser extent by c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase MAPKs. p38 is not involved in vincristine or chlorambucil cytotoxicity. Measurements of MAPK phosphorylation and enzyme activity as well as small interfering RNA inhibition studies show that the response to the drug is accompanied by up-regulation of p38 and c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase and the lack of extracellular signal-regulated kinase up-regulation. These studies confirm an earlier model proposing a mechanism for the drug specificity observed in the studies with D. discoideum and support the idea that the sphingosine kinases and S-1-P lyase are potential targets for improving the efficacy of cisplatin therapy for human tumors.

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