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Cancer Biol Ther. 2020 Jan 7:1-12. doi: 10.1080/15384047.2019.1702399. [Epub ahead of print]

Dexamethasone enhances the antitumor efficacy of Gemcitabine by glucocorticoid receptor signaling.

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NHC Key Laboratory of Biotechnology of Antibiotics, Institute of Medicinal Biotechnology, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China.


Gemcitabine (Gem) is currently used as the first-line therapy for liver and pancreatic cancer but has limited efficacy in most cases. Dexamethasone (Dex) have been applied as a chemoprotectant and chemosensitizer in cancer chemotherapy. This study further explored the potential of combination of Gem and Dex and tested the hypothesis that glucocorticoid receptor signaling is essential for the synergistic antitumor activity. In the HepG2 and AsPC-1 xenograft models, the combination treatment showed a significantly synergistic antitumor activity. Immunohistochemistry of post-treatment tumors showed a significant decrease in proliferation and angiogenesis as compared to either of the treatments alone. Dex alone and the combination with Gem inhibited the expression of glucocorticoid receptor. The combination of Dex and Gem showed synergistic cytotoxicity in cell lines in vitro. The antiproliferative synergism is prevented by used glucocorticoid receptor (GR) small interfering RNA, demonstrating that the glucocorticoid receptor is required for the antiproliferative synergism of Gem and Dex. The inhibition of glucocorticoid receptor signaling pathway and induction of apoptosis via activation of caspases 3, 8 and 9, PARP, contributed to the synergistic effect of this combination therapy. These results demonstrate that Dex could potentiate the antitumor efficacy of Gem. The synergistic antitumor activity of the combination of Dex and Gem was through glucocorticoid receptor signaling. Taken together, a combination of Dex and Gem shows a significant synergistic antitumor activity and lesser toxicity both in vitro and in vivo and could be a combination chemotherapy for the treatment of highly expression of glucocorticoid receptor patients.


Dexamethasone; Gemcitabine; Glucocorticoid receptor; Nrf2; pancreatic cancer

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