Regulation of interferon-inducible proteins by doxorubicin via interferon γ-Janus tyrosine kinase-signal transducer and activator of transcription signaling in tumor cells

Mol Pharmacol. 2012 May;81(5):679-88. doi: 10.1124/mol.111.075994. Epub 2012 Feb 9.


Activation of the immune system is a way for host tissue to defend itself against tumor growth. Hence, treatment strategies that are based on immunomodulation are on the rise. Conventional cytostatic drugs such as the anthracycline doxorubicin can also activate immune cell functions of macrophages and natural killer cells. In addition, cytotoxicity of doxorubicin can be enhanced by combining this drug with the cytokine interferon-γ (IFNγ). Although doxorubicin is one of the most applied cytostatics, the molecular mechanisms of its immunomodulation ability have not been investigated thoroughly. In microarray analyses of HeLa cells, a set of 19 genes related to interferon signaling was significantly over-represented among genes regulated by doxorubicin exposure, including signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) 1 and 2, interferon regulatory factor 9, N-myc and STAT interactor, and caspase 1. Regulation of these genes by doxorubicin was verified with real-time polymerase chain reaction and immunoblotting. An enhanced secretion of IFNγ was observed when HeLa cells were exposed to doxorubicin compared with untreated cells. IFNγ-neutralizing antibodies and inhibition of Janus tyrosine kinase (JAK)-STAT signaling [aurintricarboxylic acid (ATA), (E)-2-cyano-3-(3,4-dihydrophenyl)-N-(phenylmethyl)-2-propenamide (AG490), STAT1 small interfering RNA] significantly abolished doxorubicin-stimulated expression of interferon signaling-related genes. Furthermore, inhibition of JAK-STAT signaling significantly reduced doxorubicin-induced caspase 3 activation and desensitized HeLa cells to doxorubicin cytotoxicity. In conclusion, we demonstrate that doxorubicin induces interferon-responsive genes via IFNγ-JAK-STAT1 signaling and that this pathway is relevant for doxorubicin's cytotoxicity in HeLa cells. Immunomodulation is a promising strategy in anticancer treatment, so this novel mode of action of doxorubicin may help to further improve the use of this drug among different types of anticancer treatment strategies.

MeSH terms

  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology*
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / physiology*
  • Janus Kinase 1 / physiology*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • STAT1 Transcription Factor / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tyrphostins / pharmacology


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • STAT1 Transcription Factor
  • STAT1 protein, human
  • Tyrphostins
  • alpha-cyano-(3,4-dihydroxy)-N-benzylcinnamide
  • Doxorubicin
  • Interferon-gamma
  • JAK1 protein, human
  • Janus Kinase 1