Biochemical and biophysical research communications

Autophagy sustains the survival of human pancreatic cancer PANC-1 cells under extreme nutrient deprivation conditions.

PMID 25998396


Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas are an extremely aggressive and devastating type of cancer with high mortality. Given the dense stroma and poor vascularization, accessibility to nutrients is limited in the tumor microenvironment. Here, we aimed to elucidate the role of autophagy in promoting the survival of human pancreatic cancer PANC-1 cells exposed to nutrient-deprived media (NDM) lacking glucose, amino acids, and serum. NDM inhibited Akt activity and phosphorylation of p70 S6K, and induced AMPK activation and mitochondrial depolarization. NDM also time-dependently increased LC3-II accumulation, number of GFP-LC3 puncta, and colocalization between GFP-LC3 and lysosomes. These results suggested that autophagy was progressively activated through Akt- and AMPK-mTOR pathway in nutrient-deficient PANC-1 cells. Autophagy inhibitors (chloroquine and wortmannin) or silencing of Atg5 augmented PANC-1 cell death in NDM. In cells exposed to NDM, chloroquine and wortmannin induced apoptosis and Z-VAD-fmk inhibited cytotoxicity of these inhibitors. These data demonstrate that autophagy is anti-apoptotic and sustains the survival of PANC-1 cells following extreme nutrient deprivation. Autophagy modulation may be a viable therapeutic option for cancer cells located in the core of solid tumors with a nutrient-deficient microenvironment.