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Neoplasia. 2008 Aug;10(8):873-85.

BH3 mimetics reactivate autophagic cell death in anoxia-resistant malignant glioma cells.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Clinics, Frankfurt, Main, Germany.


Here, we investigated the specific roles of Bcl-2 family members in anoxia tolerance of malignant glioma. Flow cytometry analysis of cell death in 17 glioma cell lines revealed drastic differences in their sensitivity to oxygen withdrawal (<0.1% O(2)). Cell death correlated with mitochondrial depolarization, cytochrome C release, and translocation of green fluorescent protein (GFP)-tagged light chain 3 to autophagosomes but occurred in the absence of caspase activation or phosphatidylserine exposure. In both sensitive and tolerant glioma cell lines, anoxia caused a significant up-regulation of BH3-only genes previously implicated in mediating anoxic cell death in other cell types (BNIP3, NIX, PUMA, and Noxa). In contrast, we detected a strong correlation between anoxia resistance and high expression levels of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins Bcl-xL, Bcl-2, and Mcl-1 that function to neutralize the proapoptotic activity of BH3-only proteins. Importantly, inhibition of both Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL with the small-molecule BH3 mimetics HA14-1 and BH3I-2' and by RNA interference reactivated anoxia-induced autophagic cell death in previously resistant glioma cells. Our data suggest that endogenous BH3-only protein induction may not be able to compensate for the high expression of antiapoptotic Bcl-2 family proteins in anoxia-resistant astrocytomas. They also support the conjecture that BH3 mimetics may represent an exciting new approach for the treatment of malignant glioma.

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