Suppression of Rac activity induces apoptosis of human glioma cells but not normal human astrocytes

Cancer Res. 2002 Apr 1;62(7):2131-40.


Tumors of glial origin such as glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) comprise the majority of human brain tumors. Patients with GBM have a very poor survival rate, with an average life expectancy of <1 year. We asked whether we could identify a survival pathway in high-grade glioma and oligodendroglioma cells that when suppressed, would induce apoptosis of these tumor cells but not of normal human adult astrocytes. To identify these pathways, we selectively suppressed the activity of a number of proteins (Ras, Rac1, Akt1, RhoA, c-jun, and MEK1/2) hypothesized to play roles in cell survival. We found that suppression of Rac1, a small GTP-binding protein, inhibited survival and produced apoptosis in three human glioma cell lines (U87, U343, and U373). Serum induced the activity of Rac1 and the activity or phosphorylation state of p21-activated kinase 1 and c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase (JNK), two intracellular targets of Rac1. Suppression of Rac1 also induced apoptosis in 19 of 21 short-term cultures of human primary cells from grades II and III oligodendroglioma and grade IV glioblastoma that varied in p53, epidermal growth factor receptor, epidermal growth factor receptor vIII, MDM2, and p16/p19 mutational or amplification status. In contrast, inhibition of Rac1 activity did not induce apoptosis of normal primary human adult astrocytes. In both established glioma cell lines and primary glioma cells, apoptosis induced by the inhibition of Rac was partially rescued by activated mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1, an activator of JNK, suggesting that JNK functions downstream of Rac1 in glioma cells. These results indicate that Rac1 regulates a major survival pathway in most glioma cells, and that suppression of Rac1 activity stimulates the death of virtually all glioma cells, regardless of their mutational status. Agents that suppress Rac1 activity may therefore be useful therapeutic treatments for malignant gliomas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenoviridae / genetics
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Astrocytes / cytology*
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytoma / genetics
  • Astrocytoma / metabolism
  • Astrocytoma / pathology*
  • Brain Neoplasms / genetics
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cell Survival / physiology
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Glioblastoma / genetics
  • Glioblastoma / metabolism
  • Glioblastoma / pathology*
  • Humans
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinase 1*
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglioma / genetics
  • Oligodendroglioma / metabolism
  • Oligodendroglioma / pathology
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • p21-Activated Kinases
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein / physiology


  • PAK1 protein, human
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • p21-Activated Kinases
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • MAP Kinase Kinase Kinase 1
  • MAP3K1 protein, human
  • rac1 GTP-Binding Protein