Clinical cancer research : an official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research

Autophagy inhibition augments the anticancer effects of epirubicin treatment in anthracycline-sensitive and -resistant triple-negative breast cancer.

PMID 24721646


Triple-negative breast cancers (TNBC) are defined by a lack of expression of estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (ERBB2/HER2). Although initially responsive to chemotherapy, most recurrent TNBCs develop resistance, resulting in disease progression. Autophagy is a lysosome-mediated degradation and recycling process that can function as an adaptive survival response during chemotherapy and contribute to chemoresistance. Our goal was to determine whether autophagy inhibition improves treatment efficacy in TNBC cells in tumors either sensitive or refractory to anthracyclines. We used in vitro and in vivo models of TNBC using cell lines sensitive to epirubicin and other anthracyclines, as well as derivative lines, resistant to the same drugs. We assessed basal autophagy levels and the effects of chemotherapy on autophagy in parental and resistant cells. Applying various approaches to inhibit autophagy alone and in combination with chemotherapy, we assessed the effects on cell viability in vitro and tumor growth rates in vivo. We demonstrated that epirubicin induced autophagic flux in TNBC cells. Epirubicin-resistant lines exhibited at least 1.5-fold increased basal autophagy levels and, when treated with autophagy inhibitors, showed a significant loss in viability, indicating dependence of resistant cells on autophagy for survival. Combination of epirubicin with the autophagy inhibitor hydroxychloroquine resulted in a significant reduction in tumor growth compared with monotherapy with epirubicin. Autophagy inhibition enhances therapeutic response in both anthracycline-sensitive and -resistant TNBC and may be an effective new treatment strategy for this disease.