p38MAPK-Dependent sensitivity of Ewing's sarcoma family of tumors to fenretinide-induced cell death

Clin Cancer Res. 2005 Apr 15;11(8):3136-48. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-04-2050.


Purpose: There is an urgent need for new therapeutic strategies in Ewing's sarcoma family of tumors (ESFT). In this study, we have evaluated the effect of fenretinide [N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)retinamide] in ESFT models.

Experimental design: The effect of fenretinide on viable cell number and apoptosis of ESFT cell lines and spheroids and growth of s.c. ESFT in nu/nu mice was investigated. The role of the stress-activated kinases p38(MAPK) and c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase in fenretinide-induced death was investigated by Western blot and inhibitor experiments. Accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and changes in mitochondrial transmembrane potential were investigated by flow cytometry.

Results: Fenretinide induced cell death in all ESFT cell lines examined in a dose- and time-dependent manner. ESFT cells were more sensitive to fenretinide than the neuroblastoma cell lines examined. Furthermore, fenretinide induced cell death in ESFT spheroids and delayed s.c. ESFT growth in mice. p38(MAPK) was activated within 15 minutes of fenretinide treatment and was dependent on ROS accumulation. Inhibition of p38(MAPK) activity partially rescued fenretinide-mediated cell death in ESFT but not in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells. c-Jun NH(2)-terminal kinase was activated after 4 hours and was dependent on ROS accumulation but not on activation of p38(MAPK). After 8 hours, fenretinide induced mitochondrial depolarization (Deltapsi(m)) and release of cytochrome c into the cytoplasm in a ROS- and p38(MAPK)-dependent manner.

Conclusions: These data show that the high sensitivity of ESFT cells to fenretinide is dependent in part on the rapid and sustained activation of p38(MAPK). The efficacy of fenretinide in preclinical models demands the evaluation of fenretinide as a potential therapeutic agent in ESFT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cytochromes c / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Fenretinide / pharmacology*
  • Fenretinide / therapeutic use
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Humans
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology
  • Intracellular Membranes / drug effects
  • Intracellular Membranes / physiology
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / physiology
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Sarcoma, Ewing / drug therapy*
  • Sarcoma, Ewing / metabolism
  • Sarcoma, Ewing / pathology
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays / methods
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Imidazoles
  • Pyridines
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Fenretinide
  • Cytochromes c
  • JNK Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • p38 Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • 4-(4-fluorophenyl)-2-(4-hydroxyphenyl)-5-(4-pyridyl)imidazole