Molecular cancer therapeutics

Culture dimensionality influences the resistance of glioblastoma stem-like cells to multikinase inhibitors.

PMID 24723451


Sunitinib, an inhibitor of kinases, including VEGFR and platelet-derived growth factor receptor (PDGFR), efficiently induces apoptosis in vitro in glioblastoma (GBM) cells, but does not show any survival benefit in vivo. One detrimental aspect of current in vitro models is that they do not take into account the contribution of extrinsic factors to the cellular response to drug treatment. Here, we studied the effects of substrate properties including elasticity, dimensionality, and matrix composition on the response of GBM stem-like cells (GSC) to chemotherapeutic agents. Thirty-seven cell cultures, including GSCs, parenchymal GBM cells, and GBM cell lines, were treated with nine antitumor compounds. Contrary to the expected chemoresistance of GSCs, these cells were more sensitive to most agents than GBM parenchymal cells or GBM cell lines cultured on flat (two-dimensional; 2D) plastic or collagen-coated surfaces. However, GSCs cultured in collagen-based three-dimensional (3D) environments increased their resistance, particularly to receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitors, such as sunitinib, BIBF1120, and imatinib. Differences in substrate rigidity or matrix components did not modify the response of GSCs to the inhibitors. Moreover, the MEK-ERK and PI3K-Akt pathways, but not PDGFR, mediate at least in part, this dimensionality-dependent chemoresistance. These findings suggest that survival of GSCs on 2D substrates, but not in a 3D environment, relies on kinases that can be efficiently targeted by sunitinib-like inhibitors. Overall, our data may help explain the lack of correlation between in vitro and in vivo models used to study the therapeutic potential of kinase inhibitors, and provide a rationale for developing more robust drug screening models.