The relationship between HIF-1α and autophagy activity in the hypoxic environment of breast cancer

Mills, Justin (2013-03)

Thesis (MSc)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.


ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Introduction: Among the cancers that afflict females world-wide, neoplastic disease of breast tissue is the most frequently diagnosed form and the leading cause of cancer-related death. Conventional treatment entails the use of doxorubicin, an anticancer agent belonging to the anthracycline family of chemotherapeutic drugs. Cancer cells are becoming increasingly resistant to doxorubicin therapy. The existence of hypoxic zones, which is a common feature of solid tumours, has been shown to promote the selection of therapy resistant clones in proliferating cancer cells. By modifying cellular homeostasis, neoplastic cells are capable of tolerating the hypoxic insult and thriving within the hostile microenvironment of the tumour. This adaptation is known as ‘the hypoxic response’ and is mediated through the action of the transcriptional regulator, HIF-1. Its expression in cancer tissue has been associated with a dismal prognosis as it promotes the degree of malignancy to an advanced stage. Hypothesis & Aims: We hypothesized that the targeting of HIF-1α would circumvent the ‘protective’ hypoxic response conferred upon breast cancer and improve the cytotoxicity of doxorubicin treatment. In this study, the first aim was to identify the hypoxic conditions at which the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line manifests a doxorubicin-resistant phenotype. This was followed by examination of the molecular pathways contributing to the hypoxic resistance by elucidating the potential relationship with the hypoxic regulator HIF-1α. Once the involvement of HIF-1α was established, the next aim was to evaluate whether the attenuation of HIF-1α would terminate the resistant phenotype and sensitize the neoplastic MCF-7 cells to doxorubicin treatment. Finally, the reproducibility of the in vitro experiment and efficacy of treatments within an animal model was evaluated. 2-Methoxyestradiol is a naturally occurring metabolite originating from 17β-estradiol. It has recently been exploited as an anticancer agent due to its anti-proliferative and anti-angiogenic properties. Among its various mechanisms of action, this compound has been shown to inhibit the expression of HIF-1α. It is for this reason that this study employed 2-methoxyestradiol in the adjuvant therapeutic treatment, along with doxorubicin. Methods: The in vitro experimental model employed the use of the breast adenocarcinoma estrogen receptor (ER-positive cell line, MCF-7. These neoplastic cells were propagated under standard culture conditions until reaching ~70-80% confluency, after which treatment commenced. The treatment regime comprised a 12 hour exposure to the doxorubicin (1 μM) chemotherapeutic agent, either alone or in combination with HIF-1α inhibitors, 2-methoxyestradiol (10 μM) or siRNA duplex (400 nM), with parallel incubations under normoxic (21%) and hypoxic (~0.1%) conditions. To serve as a positive control for HIF-1α expression, cells were treated with CoCl2 (100 μM). Molecular techniques employed included the Caspase-Glo® 3/7 Assay, western blotting, and the bioreductive MTT Assay. Mitochondrial integrity was assessed by live cell imaging/fluorescent microscopy. Cellular viability was monitored at all times. The experiment was then translated into a pre-clinical in vivo model where C57BL/6 mice bearing E0771 xenografts (4 week growth) were allocated into the following treatment groups: (1) control (2) doxorubicin (5, (3) 2-methoxyestradiol (45, and (4) the combination of the two previously mentioned groups. Body weight and the rate of tumour growth were monitored throughout the experiment. Results: Treatment with CoCl2 effectively stabilized HIF-1α under normoxic conditions. 2-Methoxyestradiol was capable of attenuating HIF-1α expression under both normoxia and hypoxia as compared with siRNA transfection, which was only effective under normoxia. HIF-1α stabilization was accompanied by an increase in autophagy along with the morphological transformation of mitochondria from an elongated network to shorter disc-like forms. On the other hand, HIF-1α attenuation caused an induction in the expression of the apoptotic markers, cleaved caspase 3 and cleaved PARP, as well as the restoration of the normoxic morphology. The exposure of MCF-7 cells to 1 μM doxorubicin for 12 hours produced a differential effect in the bioreductive MTT assay between normoxic and hypoxic conditions (42.97 ± 3.095% vs. normoxic dox, p<0.01), while stimulating the apoptotic and autophagic pathways. Compared to the control, a significant expression of phospho-AMPK became evident at 21% O2, while the levels remained stable at ~0.1% O2 after doxorubicin exposure. Furthermore, chemotherapeutic treatment caused the morphology of the mitochondria to appear dot-like. Although the combination of the two drugs removed the differential effect witnessed in the MTT assay, there was no significant change when compared to doxorubicin. Levels of apoptotic cell death decreased under both oxygen conditions. While HIF-1α and autophagy decreased under normoxia, they remained elevated under hypoxia. In the in vivo component of the study, the administration of doxorubicin and 2-methoxyestradiol, alone or in combination, did not affect the rate of tumour growth or induce systematic toxicity in any of the experimental mice. When drugs were administered separately, a decrease in apoptosis along with a concomitant increase in autophagy and p-AMPK expression became noticeable while neither treatment had any significant effect on the expression of HIF-1α. Adjuvant administration, however, was capable of attenuating HIF-1α along with autophagy. Discussion: By inducing (CoCl2) and inhibiting (2-methoxyestradiol; siRNA duplex) HIF-1α, it was established that the autophagic pathway in the in vitro experimental setting of this study was dependent on the expression of HIF-1α. The bioreductive MTT assay measures the metabolic state of a cell, which is an indirect indication of cellular viability. Based on this, hypoxia was shown to confer survival to neoplastic MCF-7 cells based on the differential effect witnessed after doxorubicin treatment. Apart from the induction of apoptosis and its associated mitochondrial fragmentation, the chemotherapeutic drug increased the activation of the metabolic sensor, AMPK, which upregulated autophagy during normoxia. While this autophagic process may assist in the killing mechanism, we speculate that the autophagy upregulated under hypoxia may be responsible for the survival effect and is most likely dependent on HIF-1α. In contrast to eliciting a synergistic cytotoxic effect, the combination of doxorubicin with 2-methoxyestradiol produced an antagonistic effect on cellular viability instead. We propose that under normoxia, the combined treatment may stimulate the MCF-7 neoplastic cells to enter a state of growth arrest, or senescence, since the results indicate that the decrease in HIF-1α-dependent autophagy did not significantly affect cellular viability. Under hypoxia, despite the incorporation of the pharmacological HIF-1α inhibitor (2-methoxyestradiol), the expression levels of HIF-1α remained unaffected. We speculate that this could be the result of a potentiated stabilization of HIF-1α caused by the build-up of ROS and TCA intermediates which may be the outcome of mitochondrial dysfunction inflicted upon adjuvant therapy under hypoxia. Furthermore, it is also likely that the slight mitogenic effect observed within the MTT assay may be caused by the conversion of 2-methoxyestradiol to a chemically-reactive estrogen derivative, possibly by the action of doxorubicin, and the fact that an ER-positive cancer cell line was employed in this study. With regards to the in vivo experimental model, we speculated that the failure of the molecular changes to manipulate the growth of the tumour could have been the result of an ineffective time- and/or dose regime. Conclusion: We therefore reject our hypothesis based on the fact that an antagonistic rather than synergistic effect was witnessed when the tumorigenic MCF-7 cell line was treated with adjuvant therapy. The results warrant the need for extensive testing on the pharmacodynamics of 2-methoxyestradiol, and more informative techniques to compliment the study.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Inleiding: Borskanker is die mees algemeen gediagnoseerde kanker asook die hoof oorsaak van kanker-verwante sterftes in vrouens wêreldwyd. Konvensionele behandeling behels die toediening van doxorubicin, ‘n anti-kankermiddel wat aan die antrasiklien-familie van chemoterapeutiese middels behoort. Kankerselle begin egter toenemend weerstandbiedend raak teen doxorubicin behandeling. Daar is al bewys dat die voorkoms van hipoksiese sones, wat ‘n algemene eienskap van soliede tumore is, die seleksie vir weerstandbiedende klone van prolifererende kankerselle, veroorsaak. Neoplastiese selle kan hierdie hipoksiese toestande weerstaan en in hierdie ongunstige mikro-omgewing floreer deur sellulêre homeostase te modifiseer. Hierdie aanpassing staan bekend as die ‘hipoksiese respons’ en word bemiddel deur die aksies van die transkripsiefaktor reguleerder, HIF-1. Die verhoogde uitdrukking van HIF-1 in kankerweefsel word oor die algemeen geassosieer met ‘n swak prognose omdat dit die maligniteit vehoog. Hipotese en Doelwitte: Die hipotese van hierdie studie behels dus die volgende: Deur HIF-1α te inhibeer, sal die ‘beskermende’ hipoksiese respons wat in borskankerselle voorkom omseil kan word en sodoende die sitotoksisiteit van doxorubicin terapie verhoog. Die eerste doelwit van hierdie studie was dus om die hipoksiese kondisies te identifiseer waar MCF-7 selle ‘n doxorubicin-weerstandbiedende fenotipe vertoon. Daarna is die molekulêre paaie wat bydrae tot hierdie hipoksiese weerstand ondersoek asook hul moontlike verwantskap met die hipoksiese reguleerder, HIF-1α. Nadat die rol van HIF-1α bevestig is, was die volgende doelwit om te bepaal of die inhibisie van HIF-1α die weerstandbiedende fenotipe sal onderdruk en neoplastiese MCF-7 selle sal sensitiseer vir doxorubicin behandeling. Laastens is die herhaalbaarheid en effektiwiteit van behandeling in die in vitro eksperimente ook in ‘n diermodel getoets. 2-Methoxyestradiol is ‘n metaboliet van 17β-estradiol wat natuurlik in die liggaam voorkom. Dit is ook onlangs as ‘n anti-kanker middel geïdentifiseer as gevolg van die anti-verdelende en anti-angiogeniese eienskappe. Een van die eienskappe van 2-methoxyestradiol is dat dit ook die uitdrukking van HIF-1α kan onderdruk. Dit is dan ook vir hierdie rede dat 2-methoxyestradiol in hierdie studie as bykomende terapie saam met doxorubicin gebruik is. Metodes: Die in vitro eksperimentele model behels die gebruik van ‘n borsadenokarsinoom, estrogeenreseptor (ER)- positiewe sellyn, MCF-7. Hierdie neoplastiese selle is onder standaard weefselkultuur omstandighede gekweek totdat konfluensie van ~70-80% bereik is, waarna behandeling begin het. Die behandelingsprosedure behels ‘n 12 uur blootstelling aan doxorubicin (1 µM) chemoterapeutiese middel alleen of in kombinasie met die HIF-1α inhibitore, 2-methoxyestradiol (10 µM) of siRNA duplex (400 nM) in normoksiese (21% O2) en hipoksiese (~0.1% O2) toestande. Die selle is ook met CoCl2 behandel wat gedien het as ‘n positiewe kontrole vir HIF-1α uitdrukking. Molekulêre tegnieke wat tydens hierdie studie gebruik is, sluit die “Caspase-Glo® 3/7” bepaling in, asook die westelike kladtegniek en die MTT bepaling. Mitochondriale integriteit is bepaal deur middel van lewende sel afbeeldings/fluoresensie mikroskopie. Sellewensvatbaarheid is ten alle tye gemonitor. Hierdie eksperment is verder ook in ‘n pre-kliniese in vivo model uitgevoer waar C57BL/6 muise met E0771 xenografte (4 weke groei) geïnduseer is en in die volgende behandelingsgroepe verdeel is: (1) kontrole; (2) doxorubicin (5; (3) 2-methoxyestradiol (45; en (4) die kombinasie van laasgenoemde twee groepe. Die liggaamsgewig en die tempo van tumorgroei is tydens die hele eksperiment gemonitor. Resultate: CoCl2 behandeling het HIF-1α effektief gestabiliseer tydens normoksiese omstandighede. 2-Methoxyestradiol het HIF-1α uitdrukking tydens normoksiese en hipoksiese toestande onderdruk wanneer dit vergelyk is met siRNA transfeksie wat slegs tydens normoksiese toestande effektief was. HIF-1α stabilisering het gepaardgegaan met ‘n toename in autofagie asook morfologiese veranderinge in die mitochondria vanaf ‘n verlengde netwerk tot korter skyfagtige vorme. Aan die ander kant het HIF-1α onderdrukking ‘n toename in die apoptotiese merkers, nl kliewing in caspase-3 and PARP veroorsaak wat gepaard gegaan het met die herstel van die tubulêre mitochondriale netwerk. Die blootstelling van die MCF-7 selle aan 1 µM doxorubicin vir 12 ure het ‘n differensiële effek in die bioreduktiewe MTT bepaling tot gevolg gehad tussen normoksiese en hipoksiese toestande (42.97 ± 3.095%, p<0.1), terwyl die apoptotiese- en autofagiese paaie in beide toestande gestimuleer is. ‘n Insiggewende toename in fosfo-AMPK uitdrukking was sigbaar tydens normoksiese toestande van 21% O2, terwyl dit onveranderd gebly het tydens hipoksiese toestande van 0.1% ~O2 na doxorubicin behandeling. Die morfologie van die mitochondria het ‘n ‘kollerige’ voorkoms tydens doxorubicin behandeling gehad. Alhoewel die behandeling van die selle met beide middels gelyktydig, die differensiële effek soos weerspieël in die MTT bepaling ophef, is daar geen insiggewende verandering wanneer met doxorubicin behandeling vergelyk word nie. Apoptotiese seldood verminder met gelyktydige behandeling van biede middels tydens normoksiese en hipoksiese toestande. HIF1-α en autofagie het afgeneem tydens normoksiese toestande, maar bly vehoog tydens hipoksie. In die in vivo model, het die toediening van doxorubicin en 2-methoxyestradiol alleen en in kombinasie nie tumorgroei geaffekteer nie en ook nie sistemiese toksisiteit in enige van die eksperimentele muise tot gevolg gehad nie. Die afsonderlike toediening van die middels het ‘n afname in apoptose in ‘n toename in autofagie en p-AMPK uitdrukking tot gevolg gehad, terwyl afsonderlike toediening van die middels nie ‘n effek op HIF-1α uitdrukking gehad het nie. Die gelyktydige toediening van biede middels het egter ‘n onderdrukking van HIF1-α teweeggebring. Bespreking: Deur HIF-1α te induseer (CoCl2) en te inhibeer (2-methoxyestradiol en siRNA) in hierdie in vitro eksperimentele omstandighede, bevestig hierdie resultate dat autofagie afhanklik is van die uitdrukking van HIF-1α. Die bioreduktiewe MTT bepaling meet die metaboliese staat van die sel wat indirek sellewensvatbaarheid bepaal. Gebasseer op hierdie bepaling is bewys dat hipoksie ‘n weerstandbiedende fenotipe veroorsaak teen doxorubicin behandeling in neoplastiese MCF-7 selle. Doxorubicin veroorsaak ‘n toename in apoptose met geassosieerde mitochondriale fragmentering asook ‘n aktivering van die metaboliese sensor, AMPK, wat autofagie stimuleer in normoksiese omstandighede. Alhoewel ‘n toename in autofagie seldood kan stimuleer, spekuleer ons dat ‘n toename in autofagie tydens hipoksie verantwoordelik kan wees vir seloorlewing wat heel moontlik ook afhanklik van HIF-1α is. In kontras met die verwagting dat die kombinasie behandeling ‘n sinergistiese sitotoksiese effek sou teweegbring, dui ons resultate dat daar ‘n antagonistiese effek op sellewensvatbaarheid was. Ons stel voor dat die gekombineerde behandeling tydens normoksiese toestande MCF-7 neoplastiese selle stimuleer om in ‘n toestand van groeistaking in te gaan aangesien die resultate daarop dui dat ‘n afname in HIF-1α afhanklike autofagie nie sellulêre lewensvatbaarheid beïnvloed het nie. Tydens hipoksie, ten spyte van die bykomdende behandeling met die HIF-1α inhibitor (2-methoxyestradiol), het die vlakke van HIF-1α onveranderd gebly. Ons spekuleer dat dat dit die gevolg kan wees van die stabilisering van HIF-1α as gevolg van ‘n toename in ROS en TCA intermediate wat die gevolg van mitochondriale wanfunksie kan wees tydens bykomende terapie onder hipoksiese toestande. Dit is ook moontlik dat die mitogeniese effek wat waargeneem is met die MTT bepaling die gevolg kan wees van die omsetting van 2-methoxyestradiol na ‘n chemiese-reaktiewe estrogeen derivaat; moontlik as gevolg van die aksie van doxorubicin en die feit dat die sellyn wat in hierdie studie gebruik is, ‘n ER-positiewe kankersellyn is. Met verwysing na die in vivo eksperimentele model, spekuleer ons dat die molekulêre veranderinge wat nie in die tumorgroei weerspieël word nie, die resultaat van oneffektiewe tyds- en dosis behandelingswyses is, of foutiewe toediening van die middel kan wees. Gevolgtrekking: Ons verwerp dus ons hipotese gebaseer op die feit dat bykomende (adjuvante) behandeling eerder ‘n antogonistiese effek as ‘n sinergistiese effek op seldood in MCF-7 selle het. Hierdie resultate regverdig die nodigheid van intensiewe toetsing op die farmakodinamika van 2-methoxyestradiol asook die gebruik van meer informatiewe tegnieke om hierdie studie te komplimenteer.

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