Valproic acid induces Notch1 signaling in small cell lung cancer cells

J Surg Res. 2008 Jul;148(1):31-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2008.03.008. Epub 2008 Apr 10.


Background: Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is an aggressive malignancy. Current treatments yield dismal survival rates. We have previously demonstrated that histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors can inhibit neuroendocrine tumor growth. Activation of the Notch1 signaling pathway also impairs SCLC cell viability. In this study, we investigated the ability of the HDAC inhibitor valproic acid (VPA) to activate Notch1 signaling and inhibit proliferation in SCLC cells.

Materials and methods: DMS53 human SCLC cells were treated with VPA (0-10 mM) for 2 d. Light microscopy was used to examine changes in cell morphology. Western analysis was performed using antibodies against various Notch1 pathway proteins to assess Notch1 activation. Additionally, immunoblotting was performed for two neuroendocrine tumor markers, chromogranin A and achaete-scute complex-like 1. Finally, a cell proliferation assay was used to measure the effects of VPA on SCLC growth over 8 d.

Results: After treatment with VPA, DMS53 cells underwent dramatic changes in morphology. VPA induced expression of the full-length and active forms of Notch1 protein. Furthermore, VPA suppressed levels of neuroendocrine tumor markers chromogranin A and ASLC-1. Importantly, VPA treatment led to dose-dependent inhibition of SCLC cell proliferation.

Conclusions: The HDAC inhibitor VPA activates Notch1 signaling in SCLC cells. VPA induces changes in cell morphology and suppresses neuroendocrine tumor markers, indicating a change in phenotype. Additionally, VPA profoundly inhibits SCLC cell growth. These results suggest that VPA has potential as a novel therapeutic agent for SCLC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / drug therapy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Chromogranin A / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Phenotype
  • Receptor, Notch1 / biosynthesis*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology*


  • ASCL1 protein, human
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Transcription Factors
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Chromogranin A
  • NOTCH1 protein, human
  • Receptor, Notch1
  • Valproic Acid