Capsaicin treatment was previously reported to reduce the sensitivity of breast cancer cells, but not normal MCF10A cells, to apoptosis. The present study shows that autophagy is involved in cellular resistance to genotoxic stress, through DNA repair. Capsaicin treatment of MCF-7 cells induced S-phase arrest and autophagy through the AMPKα-mTOR signaling pathway and the accumulation of p53 in the nucleus and cytosol, including a change in mitochondrial membrane potential. Capsaicin treatment also activated δ-H2AX, ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM), DNA-dependent protein kinase catalytic subunit (DNA-PKcs), and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP)-1. Genetic or pharmacological disruption of autophagy attenuated capsaicin-induced phospho-ATM and phospho-DNA-PKcs and enhanced apoptotic cell death. ATM inhibitors, including Ku55933 and caffeine, and the genetic or pharmacological inhibition of p53 prevented capsaicin-induced DNA-PKcs phosphorylation and stimulated PARP-1 cleavage, but had no effect on microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 (LC3)-II levels. Ly294002, a DNA-PKcs inhibitor, boosted the capsaicin-induced cleavage of PARP-1. In M059K cells, but not M059J cells, capsaicin induced ATM and DNA-PKcs phosphorylation, p53 accumulation, and the stimulation of LC3II production, all of which were attenuated by knockdown of the autophagy-related gene atg5. Ku55933 attenuated capsaicin-induced phospho-DNA-PKcs, but not LC3II, in M059K cells. In human breast tumors, but not in normal tissues, AMPKα, ATM, DNA-PKcs, and PARP-1 were activated and LC3II was induced. The induction of autophagy by genotoxic stress likely contributes to the sustained survival of breast cancer cells through DNA repair regulated by ATM-mediated activation of DNA-PKcs and PARP-1.
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