The deadly connection between endoplasmic reticulum, Ca2+, protein synthesis, and the endoplasmic reticulum stress response in malignant glioma cells

Neuro Oncol. 2014 Aug;16(8):1086-99. doi: 10.1093/neuonc/nou012. Epub 2014 Feb 24.


Background: The endoplasmic reticulum (ER) is involved in Ca(2+) signaling and protein processing. Accumulation of unfolded proteins following ER Ca(2+) depletion triggers the ER stress response (ERSR), which facilitates protein folding and removal of damaged proteins and can induce cell death. Unfolded proteins bind to chaperones, such as the glucose-regulated protein (GRP)78 and cause the release of GRP78-repressed proteins executing ERSR.

Methods: Several glioma cell lines and primary astrocytes were used to analyze ERSR using standard western blots, reverse transcription-PCR, viability assays, and single cell Ca(2+) imaging.

Results: ERSR induction with thapsigargin results in a more intense ERSR associated with a larger loss of ER Ca(2+), activation of ER-associated caspases (4/12) and caspase 3, and a higher rate of malignant glioma cell death than in normal glial cells. Malignant glioma cells have higher levels of protein synthesis and expression of the translocon (a component of the ribosomal complex, guiding protein entry in the ER), the activity of which is associated with the loss of ER Ca(2+). Our experiments confirm increased expression of the translocon in malignant glioma cells. In addition, blockade of the ribosome-translocon complex with agents differently affecting translocon Ca(2+) permeability causes opposite effects on ERSR deployment and death of malignant glioma cells.

Conclusions: Excessive ER Ca(2+) loss due to translocon activity appears to be responsible for the enhancement of ERSR, leading to the death of glioma cells. The results reveal a characteristic of malignant glioma cells that could be exploited to develop new therapeutic strategies to treat incurable glial malignancies.

Keywords: Ca2+; ER stress response; astrocytes; caspase 4; glioma; thapsigargin; translocon.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum / metabolism*
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress / physiology*
  • Female
  • Glioma / metabolism*
  • Glioma / pathology
  • Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Rats


  • Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Calcium
  • molecular chaperone GRP78