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PLoS One. 2014 Apr 10;9(4):e93713. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0093713. eCollection 2014.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists sensitize, and resensitize, prostate cancer cells to docetaxel in a p53-dependent manner.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Scienze Farmacologiche e Biomolecolari, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano, Italy.
  • 2Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, Division of Reproductive Sciences, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Morristown, New Jersey, United States of America.
  • 3Drug Discovery and Translational Research, Shire Rare Diseases Unit, Lexington, Massachusetts, United States of America.


Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) receptors are expressed in prostate cancer, specifically in the most aggressive stage of the tumor (castration-resistant prostate cancer, CRPC) for which the standard treatment, docetaxel-based chemotherapy, can only improve the median survival time by few months. We previously showed that GnRH agonists exert an antitumor activity in CRPC cells; however, a link between GnRH receptors and the apoptotic machinery remains to be defined. Aim of this study was to evaluate whether, in CRPC cells, GnRH agonists might affect the expression/activity of apoptosis-related proteins and might sensitize, or resensitize, cancer cells to chemotherapeutics. We demonstrated that, in p53-positive DU145 cells, GnRH agonists: a) increase the expression of the proapoptotic protein Bax; this effect is mediated by the phosphorylation (activation) of p53, triggered by the p38 MAPK; b) potentiate the antiproliferative/proapoptotic activity of docetaxel; c) resensitize docetaxel-resistant cells to the antitumor activity of the cytotoxic drug. These data indicate that GnRH agonists sensitize and, more importantly, resensitize DU145 CRPC cells to chemotherapy in a p53-dependent manner. To confirm the crucial role of p53 in the activity of GnRH agonists, experiments were performed in p53-null PC3 cells. We found that GnRH agonists fail to increase Bax expression and do not potentiate the cytotoxic activity of docetaxel. These results may provide a rationale for novel combination treatment strategies, especially for docetaxel-resistant CRPC patients expressing a functional p53 protein.

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