Chloroquine potentiates the anti-cancer effect of 5-fluorouracil on colon cancer cells

BMC Cancer. 2010 Jul 15:10:370. doi: 10.1186/1471-2407-10-370.


Background: Chloroquine (CQ), the worldwide used anti-malarial drug, has recently being focused as a potential anti-cancer agent as well as a chemosensitizer when used in combination with anti-cancer drugs. It has been shown to inhibit cell growth and/or to induce cell death in various types of cancer. 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) is the chemotherapeutic agent of first choice in colorectal cancer, but in most cases, resistance to 5-FU develops through various mechanisms. Here, we focused on the combination of CQ as a mechanism to potentiate the inhibitory effect of 5-FU on human colon cancer cells.

Methods: HT-29 cells were treated with CQ and/or 5-FU, and their proliferative ability, apoptosis and autophagy induction effects, and the affection of the cell cycle were evaluated. The proliferative ability of HT-29 was analyzed by the MTS assay. Apoptosis was quantified by flow-cytometry after double-staining of the cells with AnnexinV/PI. The cell cycle was evaluated by flow-cytometry after staining of cells with PI. Autophagy was quantified by flow-cytometry and Western blot analysis. Finally, to evaluate the fate of the cells treated with CQ and/or 5-FU, the colony formation assay was performed.

Results: 5-FU inhibited the proliferative activity of HT-29 cells, which was mostly dependent on the arrest of the cells to the G0/G1-phase but also partially on apoptosis induction, and the effect was potentiated by CQ pre-treatment. The potentiation of the inhibitory effect of 5-FU by CQ was dependent on the increase of p21Cip1 and p27Kip1 and the decrease of CDK2. Since CQ is reported to inhibit autophagy, the catabolic process necessary for cell survival under conditions of cell starvation or stress, which is induced by cancer cells as a protective mechanism against chemotherapeutic agents, we also analyzed the induction of autophagy in HT-29. HT-29 induced autophagy in response to 5-FU, and CQ inhibited this induction, a possible mechanism of the potentiation of the anti-cancer effect of 5-FU.

Conclusion: Our findings suggest that the combination therapy with CQ should be a novel therapeutic modality to improve efficacy of 5-FU-based chemotherapy, possibly by inhibiting autophagy-dependent resistance to chemotherapy.

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use*
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Autophagy
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Chloroquine / therapeutic use*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Colony-Forming Units Assay
  • Drug Synergism
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorouracil / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques


  • Antimalarials
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Chloroquine
  • Fluorouracil