Dichloroacetate induces tumor-specific radiosensitivity in vitro but attenuates radiation-induced tumor growth delay in vivo

Strahlenther Onkol. 2013 Aug;189(8):684-92. doi: 10.1007/s00066-013-0354-x. Epub 2013 Jun 23.


Background: Inhibition of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase (PDK) by dichloroacetate (DCA) can shift tumor cell metabolism from anaerobic glycolysis to glucose oxidation, with activation of mitochondrial activity and chemotherapy-dependent apoptosis. In radiotherapy, DCA could thus potentially enhance the frequently moderate apoptotic response of cancer cells that results from their mitochondrial dysfunction. The aim of this study was to investigate tumor-specific radiosensitization by DCA in vitro and in a human tumor xenograft mouse model in vivo.

Materials and methods: The interaction of DCA with photon beam radiation was investigated in the human tumor cell lines WIDR (colorectal) and LN18 (glioma), as well as in the human normal tissue cell lines HUVEC (endothelial), MRC5 (lung fibroblasts) and TK6 (lymphoblastoid). Apoptosis induction in vitro was assessed by DAPI staining and sub-G1 flow cytometry; cell survival was quantified by clonogenic assay. The effect of DCA in vivo was investigated in WIDR xenograft tumors growing subcutaneously on BALB/c-nu/nu mice, with and without fractionated irradiation. Histological examination included TUNEL and Ki67 staining for apoptosis and proliferation, respectively, as well as pinomidazole labeling for hypoxia.

Results: DCA treatment led to decreased clonogenic survival and increased specific apoptosis rates in tumor cell lines (LN18, WIDR) but not in normal tissue cells (HUVEC, MRC5, TK6). However, this significant tumor-specific radiosensitization by DCA in vitro was not reflected by the situation in vivo: The growth suppression of WIDR xenograft tumors after irradiation was reduced upon additional DCA treatment (reflected by Ki67 expression levels), although early tumor cell apoptosis rates were significantly increased by DCA. This apparently paradoxical effect was accompanied by a marked DCA-dependent induction of hypoxia in tumor-tissue.

Conclusion: DCA induced tumor-specific radiosensitization in vitro but not in vivo. DCA also induced development of hypoxia in tumor tissue in vivo. Further investigations relating to the interplay between tumor cell metabolism and tumor microenvironment are necessary to explain the limited success of metabolic targeting in radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Cell Proliferation / radiation effects*
  • Dichloroacetic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / radiotherapy*
  • Radiation Tolerance / drug effects*
  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents / administration & dosage
  • Rats
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Radiation-Sensitizing Agents
  • Dichloroacetic Acid