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Clin Cancer Res. 2011 Apr 15;17(8):2350-60. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-10-2325. Epub 2011 Jan 10.

Acquisition of chemoresistance and EMT phenotype is linked with activation of the endothelin A receptor pathway in ovarian carcinoma cells.

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  • 1Molecular Pathology Laboratory, Regina Elena National Cancer Institute, National Research Council, Rome, Italy.



Emerging evidence suggests molecular and phenotypic association between chemoresistance and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in cancer. Endothelin-1 (ET-1)/endothelin A receptor (ET(A)R) axis is implicated in the pathobiology of epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC) by driving tumor-promoting effects, including EMT. Here, we analyzed how ET(A)R regulates chemoresistance and EMT in EOC.


The effects of ET-1 axis on cell proliferation, drug-induced apoptosis, invasiveness, and EMT were analyzed in cultured EOC cells sensitive and resistant to cisplatinum and taxol. Tumor growth in response to ET(A)R antagonist was examined in EOC xenografts. ET(A)R expression was examined in 60 human EOC tumors by immunohistochemistry and correlated with chemoresistance and EMT.


In resistant EOC cells ET-1 and ET(A)R are upregulated, paralleled by enhanced mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) and Akt phosphorylation and cell proliferation. Moreover, in these cells the expression of E-cadherin transcriptional repressors, including Snail, Slug, and Twist, as well as of mesenchymal markers, such as vimentin and N-cadherin, were upregulated and linked with enhanced invasive behavior. Interestingly, ET(A)R blockade with zibotentan, a specific ET(A)R antagonist, or its silencing, downregulated Snail activity, restored drug sensitivity to cytotoxic-induced apoptosis, and inhibited the invasiveness of resistant cells. In vivo, zibotentan inhibited tumor growth of sensitive and resistant EOC xenografts, and sensitized to chemotherapy. Analysis of EOC human tissues revealed that ET(A)R is overexpressed in resistant tumors and is associated with EMT phenotype.


Our data provide the first evidence that blockade of ET(A)R-driven EMT can overcome chemoresistance and inhibit tumor progression, improving the outcome of EOC patients' treatment.

©2011 AACR.

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