Inhibition of WNT signaling reduces differentiation and induces sensitivity to doxorubicin in human malignant neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells

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Neuroblastoma is one of the most common cancers in infancy, arising from the neuroblasts during embryonic development. This cancer is difficult to treat and resistance to chemotherapy is often found; therefore, clinical trials of novel therapeutic approaches, such as targeted-cancer signaling, could be an alternative for a better treatment. WNT signaling plays significant roles in the survival, proliferation, and differentiation of human neuroblastoma. In this report, WNT signaling of a malignant human neuroblastoma cell line, SH-SY5Y cells, was inhibited by XAV939, a specific inhibitor of the Tankyrase enzyme. XAV939 treatment led to the reduction of β-catenin within the cells, confirming its inhibitory effect of WNT. The inhibition of WNT signaling by XAV939 did not affect cell morphology, survival, and proliferation; however, the differentiation and sensitivity to anticancer drugs of human neuroblastoma cells were altered. The treatment of XAV939 resulted in the downregulation of mature neuronal markers, including β-tubulin III, PHOX2A, and PHOX2B, whereas neural progenitor markers (PAX6, TFAP2α, and SLUG) were upregulated. In addition, the combination of XAV939 significantly enhanced the sensitivity of SH-SY5Y and IMR-32 cells to doxorubicin in both 2D and 3D culture systems. Microarray gene expression profiling suggested numbers of candidate target genes of WNT inhibition by XAV939, in particular, p21, p53, ubiquitin C, ZBED8, MDM2, CASP3, and FZD1, and this explained the enhanced sensitivity of SH-SY5Y cells to doxorubicin. Altogether, these results proposed that the altered differentiation of human malignant neuroblastoma cells by inhibiting WNT signaling sensitized the cells to anticancer drugs. This approach could thus serve as an effective treatment option for aggressive brain malignancy.

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