Cell death & disease

AMPK-dependent autophagy upregulation serves as a survival mechanism in response to Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields).

PMID 30341282


Tumor Treating Fields (TTFields), an approved treatment modality for glioblastoma, are delivered via non-invasive application of low-intensity, intermediate-frequency, alternating electric fields. TTFields application leads to abnormal mitosis, aneuploidy, and increased cell granularity, which are often associated with enhancement of autophagy. In this work, we evaluated whether TTFields effected the regulation of autophagy in glioma cells. We found that autophagy is upregulated in glioma cells treated with TTFields as demonstrated by immunoblot analysis of the lipidated microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 (LC3-II). Fluorescence and transmission electron microscopy demonstrated the presence of LC3 puncta and typical autophagosome-like structures in TTFields-treated cells. Utilizing time-lapse microscopy, we found that the significant increase in the formation of LC3 puncta was specific to cells that divided during TTFields application. Evaluation of selected cell stress parameters revealed an increase in the expression of the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress marker GRP78 and decreased intracellular ATP levels, both of which are indicative of increased proteotoxic stress. Pathway analysis demonstrated that TTFields-induced upregulation of autophagy is dependent on AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) activation. Depletion of AMPK or autophagy-related protein 7 (ATG7) inhibited the upregulation of autophagy in response to TTFields, as well as sensitized cells to the treatment, suggesting that cancer cells utilize autophagy as a resistance mechanism to TTFields. Combining TTFields with the autophagy inhibitor chloroquine (CQ) resulted in a significant dose-dependent reduction in cell growth compared with either TTFields or CQ alone. These results suggest that dividing cells upregulate autophagy in response to aneuploidy and ER stress induced by TTFields, and that AMPK serves as a key regulator of this process.

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