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Oncogene. 2004 Apr 8;23(15):2703-15.

Overcoming resistance to gamma-rays in squamous carcinoma cells by poly-drug elevation of ceramide levels.

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Department of Biochemistry, INSERM U189, Lyon-Sud Medical School, BP12, 69921 Oullins Cedex, France.


Recent strategies to sensitize radioresistant tumours are based on combining gamma-irradiation with inducers of apoptosis. We report that the combination of three inhibitors of sphingolipid metabolism, DL-threo-1-phenyl-2-decanoylamino-3-morpholino-1-propanol.HCl(DL-PDMP)+imipramine +/- D-erythro-2-(N-myristoylamino)-1-phenyl-1-propanol (D-MAPP), with 10-Gy irradiation triggers both mitotic and apoptotic killing in radioresistant SQ20B squamous carcinoma cells. In these cells, apoptosis is defective due to a lack of ceramide generation upstream, which cannot be explained by sphingomyelinase (neutral and acidic) deficiency or rapid derivation to the sphingolipid pathway. We present evidence of a functional transduction death pathway when ceramide generation is restored, which involves the mitochondrial-mediated pathway coupled to alterations in redox status and to executive caspases activation. The poly-drug treatment restored apoptosis to levels similar to those observed in radiosensitive SCC61 squamous carcinoma cells. Simultaneous exposure to gamma-irradiation and poly-drug treatment acted synergistically in SQ20B cells to produce a marked increase in both mitochondrial dysfunction and caspase cleavage, which led to a 7.8-fold increase in apoptosis within 48 h, relative to irradiated cells. Moreover, the results suggest that the ceramide released by irradiation or poly-drug treatment converges upon common cellular targets. Modulation of endogenous ceramide levels by inhibitors of sphingolipid metabolism may represent a new cellular target for the sensitization of radioresistant tumours to gamma-ray therapy.

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