Gefitinib induces apoptosis in human glioma cells by targeting Bad phosphorylation

J Neurooncol. 2011 Dec;105(3):507-22. doi: 10.1007/s11060-011-0632-3. Epub 2011 Jul 9.


Gefitinib, a selective epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor, is under clinical testing and use in cancer patients, including glioma. However, the molecular mechanisms involved in gefitinib-mediated anticancer effects against glioma remain largely uncharacterized. Gefitinib inhibits cell growth and induces apoptosis in human glioma cells. Gefitinib also induces death of H4 cells with characteristics of the intrinsic apoptotic pathway, including Bax mitochondrial translocation, mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization, cytochrome c cytosolic release, and caspase-9/caspase-3 activation. The importance of Bax in mediating gefitinib-induced apoptosis was confirmed by the attenuation of apoptosis by Bax siRNA and Bax channel blocker. Gefitinib caused Bad dephosphorylation, particularly in serine-112, and increased its binding preference to Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. The dephosphorylation of Bad in gefitinib-treated cells was accompanied by reduced intracellular cyclic AMP content and protein kinase A (PKA) activity. Adenylyl cyclase activator forskolin attenuated, but PKA inhibitor H89 augmented, gefitinib-induced Bad dephosphorylation, Bax mitochondrial translocation, caspase-9/caspase-3 activation, and viability loss. Intriguingly, a nonselective protein phosphatase inhibitor okadaic acid alleviated gefitinib-induced alterations, except Bad dephosphorylation. In parallel with the higher basal PKA activity, response of U87 cells to gefitinib treatment was delayed and relatively resistant compared with that of H4 and T98G cells. Inactivation of PKA sensitized H4, T98G, and U87 cells to gefitinib cytotoxicity, Bad dephosphorylation in serine-112, and caspase-9/caspase-3 activation. Our findings suggest the involvement of the Bad/Bax signaling pathway in gefitinib-induced glioma apoptosis. Furthermore, the inactivation of PKA was shown to play a role in triggering the proapoptotic function of Bad.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases / metabolism
  • Gefitinib
  • Glioma / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Phosphorylation
  • Quinazolines / pharmacology*
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Transfection
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / metabolism
  • bcl-Associated Death Protein / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • BAD protein, human
  • BAX protein, human
  • Quinazolines
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • bcl-Associated Death Protein
  • Cyclic AMP-Dependent Protein Kinases
  • Gefitinib