Background: Ovarian carcinoma is a rarely curable disease, for which new treatment options are required. As agents that block HMG-CoA reductase and the mevalonate pathway, the statin family of drugs are used in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia and have been shown to trigger apoptosis in a tumor-specific manner. Recent clinical trials show that the addition of statins to traditional chemotherapeutic strategies can increase efficacy of targeting statin-sensitive tumors. Our goal was to assess statin-induced apoptosis of ovarian cancer cells, either alone or in combination with chemotherapeutics, and then determine these mechanisms of action.
Methods: The effect of lovastatin on ovarian cancer cell lines was evaluated alone and in combination with cisplatin and doxorubicin using several assays (MTT, TUNEL, fixed PI, PARP cleavage) and synergy determined by evaluating the combination index. The mechanisms of action were evaluated using functional, molecular, and pharmacologic approaches.
Results: We demonstrate that lovastatin induces apoptosis of ovarian cancer cells in a p53-independent manner and synergizes with doxorubicin, a chemotherapeutic agent used to treat recurrent cases of ovarian cancer. Lovastatin drives ovarian tumor cell death by two mechanisms: first, by blocking HMG-CoA reductase activity, and second, by sensitizing multi-drug resistant cells to doxorubicin by a novel mevalonate-independent mechanism. This inhibition of drug transport, likely through inhibition of P-glycoprotein, potentiates both DNA damage and tumor cell apoptosis.
Conclusions: The results of this research provide pre-clinical data to warrant further evaluation of statins as potential anti-cancer agents to treat ovarian carcinoma. Many statins are inexpensive, off-patent generic drugs that are immediately available for use as anti-cancer agents. We provide evidence that lovastatin triggers apoptosis of ovarian cancer cells as a single agent by a mevalonate-dependent mechanism. Moreover, we also show lovastatin synergizes with doxorubicin, an agent administered for recurrent disease. This synergy occurs by a novel mevalonate-independent mechanism that antagonizes drug resistance, likely by inhibiting P-glycoprotein. These data raise important issues that may impact how statins can best be included in chemotherapy regimens.