Tamoxifen magnifies therapeutic impact of ceramide in human colorectal cancer cells independent of p53

Biochem Pharmacol. 2013 Apr 15;85(8):1057-65. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2013.01.015. Epub 2013 Jan 24.


Poor prognosis in patients with later stage colorectal cancer (CRC) necessitates the search for new treatment strategies. Ceramide, because of its role in orchestrating death cascades in cancer cells, is a versatile alternative. Ceramide can be generated by exposure to chemotherapy or ionizing radiation, or it can be administered in the form of short-chain analogs (C6-ceramide). Because intracellular P-glycoprotein (P-gp) plays a role in catalyzing the conversion of ceramide to higher sphingolipids, we hypothesized that administration of P-gp antagonists with C6-ceramide would magnify cell death cascades. Human CRC cell lines were employed, HCT-15, HT-29, and LoVo. The addition of either tamoxifen, VX-710, verapamil, or cyclosporin A, antagonists of P-gp, enhanced C6-ceramide cytotoxicity in all cell lines. In depth studies with C6-ceramide and tamoxifen in LoVo cells showed the regimen induced PARP cleavage, caspase-dependent apoptosis, mitochondrial membrane permeabilization (MMP), and cell cycle arrest at G1 and G2. At the molecular level, the regimen, but not single agents, induced time-dependent upregulation of tumor suppressor protein p53; however, introduction of a p53 inhibitor staved neither MMP nor apoptosis. Nanoliposomal formulations of C6-ceramide and tamoxifen were also effective, yielding synergistic cell kill. We conclude that tamoxifen is a favorable adjuvant for enhancing C6-ceramide cytotoxicity in CRC, and demonstrates uniquely integrated effects. The high frequency of expression of P-gp in CRC presents an adventitious target for complementing ceramide-based therapies, a strategy that could hold promise for treatment of resistant disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Ceramides / metabolism
  • Ceramides / therapeutic use*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Humans
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology*


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
  • Ceramides
  • Piperidines
  • Pyridines
  • TP53 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Tamoxifen
  • biricodar