Autophagy inhibition cooperates with erlotinib to induce glioblastoma cell death

Cancer Biol Ther. 2011 Jun 15;11(12):1017-27. doi: 10.4161/cbt.11.12.15693. Epub 2011 Jun 15.


Gliomas are the most common malignant primary brain tumors in adults. The median survival never exceeds 12 months, owing to inherent resistance to both radio and chemotherapies. Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) is amplified, overexpressed, and/or mutated in glioblastomas (GBM), making it a rational for therapy. Erlotinib, an EGFR kinase inhibitor is strongly associated with clinical response in several cancers. Inhibition of cell proliferation and induction of apoptosis by erlotinib were investigated in U87-MG and DBTRG-05MG, two human glioblastoma cell lines. The expression of several apoptosis-related proteins was investigated in these cell lines and in tumoral tissue from glioblastomas. Both cell lines expressed wild-type EGFR but were deficient for PTEN. Erlotinib induced a marked accumulation of the BIM protein, but the activation of caspase-3 machinery was missing, regardless of the decrease in XIAP. Moreover, in U87-MG, erlotinib promoted accumulation of αB-crystallin a small heat shock protein capable to impair caspase activation. DBTRG-05MG was found deficient for procaspase 3 and constitutively overexpressed αB-crystallin. Similarly, deficiencies in PTEN and procaspase 3 were constantly found in samples from glioblastoma samples, while αB-crystallin expression was inconsistent. In cell lines, high concentrations of erlotinib induced cell death through a caspase independent process and an autophagic process was evidenced in U87-MG. Inhibition of autophagy induced a marked increase in the death-inducing activity of erlotinib. These results confirm that glioblastoma cell lines exhibit several anti-apoptotic mechanisms, and underline that EGFR targeted therapy must be associated to other inhibitors to achieve an antitumoral effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins / metabolism
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Bcl-2-Like Protein 11
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Erlotinib Hydrochloride
  • Glioblastoma / pathology*
  • Glioblastoma / ultrastructure
  • HeLa Cells
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism
  • Quinazolines / pharmacology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Apoptosis Regulatory Proteins
  • BCL2L11 protein, human
  • Bcl-2-Like Protein 11
  • Membrane Proteins
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Quinazolines
  • Erlotinib Hydrochloride
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Caspases