Autophagy blockade sensitizes the anticancer activity of CA-4 via JNK-Bcl-2 pathway

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Combretastatin A-4 (CA-4) has already entered clinical trials of solid tumors over ten years. However, the limited anticancer activity and dose-dependent toxicity restrict its clinical application. Here, we offered convincing evidence that CA-4 induced autophagy in various cancer cells, which was demonstrated by acridine orange staining of intracellular acidic vesicles, the degradation of p62, the conversion of LC3-I to LC3-II and GFP-LC3 punctate fluorescence. Interestingly, CA-4-mediated apoptotic cell death was further potentiated by pretreatment with autophagy inhibitors (3-methyladenine and bafilomycin A1) or small interfering RNAs against the autophagic genes (Atg5 and Beclin 1). The enhanced anticancer activity of CA-4 and 3-MA was further confirmed in the SGC-7901 xenograft tumor model. These findings suggested that CA-4-elicited autophagic response played a protective role that impeded the eventual cell death while autophagy inhibition was expected to improve chemotherapeutic efficacy of CA-4. Meanwhile, CA-4 treatment led to phosphorylation/activation of JNK and JNK-dependent phosphorylation of Bcl-2. Importantly, JNK inhibitor or JNK siRNA inhibited autophagy but promoted CA-4-induced apoptosis, indicating a key requirement of JNK-Bcl-2 pathway in the activation of autophagy by CA-4. We also identified that pretreatment of Bcl-2 inhibitor (ABT-737) could significantly enhance anticancer activity of CA-4 due to inhibition of autophagy. Taken together, our data suggested that the JNK-Bcl-2 pathway was considered as the critical regulator of CA-4-induced protective autophagy and a potential drug target for chemotherapeutic combination.HighlightsAutophagy inhibition could be a potential for combretastatin A-4 antitumor efficacy.The JNK-Bcl-2 pathway plays a critical role in CA-4-induced autophagy.ABT-737 enhances CA-4 anticancer activity due to inhibition of autophagy.

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