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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e39209. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0039209. Epub 2012 Jun 25.

Targeting sphingosine kinase 1 in carcinoma cells decreases proliferation and survival by compromising PKC activity and cytokinesis.

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Institute of Pharmacology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.

Erratum in

  • PLoS One. 2013;8(10). doi:10.1371/annotation/cf556c9c-8c18-4d54-b34f-7a2e0c9339e3.


Sphingosine kinases (SK) catalyze the phosphorylation of proapoptotic sphingosine to the prosurvival factor sphingosine 1-phosphate (S1P), thereby promoting oncogenic processes. Breast (MDA-MB-231), lung (NCI-H358), and colon (HCT 116) carcinoma cells were transduced with shRNA to downregulate SK-1 expression or treated with a pharmacologic SK-1 inhibitor. The effects of SK-1 targeting were investigated by measuring the level of intracellular sphingosine, the activity of protein kinase C (PKC) and cell cycle regulators, and the mitotic index. Functional assays included measurement of cell proliferation, colony formation, apoptosis, and cell cycle analysis. Downregulation of SK-1 or its pharmacologic inhibition increased intracellular sphingosine and decreased PKC activity as shown by reduced phosphorylation of PKC substrates. In MDA-MB-231 cells this effect was most pronounced and reduced cell proliferation and colony formation, which could be mimicked using exogenous sphingosine or the PKC inhibitor RO 31-8220. SK-1 downregulation in MDA-MB-231 cells increased the number of cells with 4N and 8N DNA content, and similar effects were observed upon treatment with sphingosine or inhibitors of SK-1 or PKC. Examination of cell cycle regulators unveiled decreased cdc2 activity and expression of Chk1, which may compromise spindle checkpoint function and cytokinesis. Indeed, SK-1 kd cells entered mitosis but failed to divide, and in the presence of taxol also failed to sustain mitotic arrest, resulting in further increased endoreduplication and apoptosis. Our findings delineate an intriguing link between SK-1, PKC and components of the cell cycle machinery, which underlines the significance of SK-1 as a target for cancer therapy.

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