Pancreatic cancer (PC) is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide and has the highest fatality rate of all cancers. The chemoresistance of PC cells contributes to the poor prognosis of PC patients which raises the need for the identification and development of new effective therapy. Studies have revealed that the glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) is overexpressed in human pancreatic adenocarcinoma as compared to normal pancreas and its inhibition leads to the growth arrest of established tumor xenografts thus suggesting a tumor promoting role for GSK3 in PC cells. Considering that GSK3 inhibitors are currently under clinical trial for treatment of different disorders such as neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes, inhibition of GSK3 activity might represent an attractive therapeutic option for PC patients. However, mechanisms under the control of GSK3 activity in PC cells need to be clarified. We have previously demonstrated that prolonged inhibition of GSK3 activity induces JNK-dependent cell death in human PC cells. Recently, it was suggested in prostate cancer cells that GSK3 promotes both apoptosis and autophagy, the latter playing a protective role against cell death. Interestingly, inhibition of autophagy was shown to sensitize diverse cancer cells to a wide array of stress conditions. The AIM of the study was to evaluate whether GSK3 controls autophagy in PC cells and determine the role of autophagy with regard to PC cell survival. METHODS. Experiments were performed using the human PC cell lines PANC1 and MIAPaCa2. GSK3 activity was inhibited by treatment with a specific GSK3 inhibitor SB216763 (20μM). Apoptosis was measured by assessment of PARP cleavage and caspase 3 and 7 activities. Autophagy was evaluated by the detection of the membrane-bound LC3B-II isoform. The autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenine 3-MA (10mM) and the JNK inhibitor SP600125 (25μM) were also used. RESULTS. 1) Prolonged inhibition of GSK3 activity (48-72h) in PC cells induced both an apoptotic and autophagic responses. Treatment with 3-MA 2) elicited an apoptotic response and 3) strongly promoted the SB216763-induced apoptosis. 4) Mechanistically, inhibition of GSK3 activity led to a rapid and persistent activation of the JNK-cJun pathway. 5) Interestingly, blockade of the JNK pathway prevented the SB216763-induced apoptosis but not the SB216763-induced autophagy. CONCLUSION. Our results provide evidences that GSK3 regulates both apoptosis and autophagy in PC cells. On one hand, inhibition of GSK3 activity triggers apoptosis through JNK-dependent mechanisms. On the other hand, inhibition of GSK3, independently of the JNK pathway, promotes autophagy, a process that appears to protect PC cells against cell death. Inhibition of autophagy might represent an attractive avenue to promote cytotoxic activity of potential therapeutic agents such as GSK3 inhibitors.

Citation Format: {Authors}. {Abstract title} [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 102nd Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research; 2011 Apr 2-6; Orlando, FL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2011;71(8 Suppl):Abstract nr 2874. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2011-2874