WIN induces apoptotic cell death in human colon cancer cells through a block of autophagic flux dependent on PPARγ down-regulation

Apoptosis. 2014 Jun;19(6):1029-42. doi: 10.1007/s10495-014-0985-0.


Cannabinoids have been reported to possess anti-tumorigenic activity in cancer models although their mechanism of action is not well understood. Here, we show that the synthetic cannabinoid WIN55,212-2 (WIN)-induced apoptosis in colon cancer cell lines is accompanied by endoplasmic reticulum stress induction. The formation of acidic vacuoles and the increase in LC3-II protein indicated the involvement of autophagic process which seemed to play a pro-survival role against the cytotoxic effects of the drug. However, the enhanced lysosomal membrane permeabilization (LMP) blocked the autophagic flux after the formation of autophagosomes as demonstrated by the accumulation of p62 and LC3, two markers of autophagic degradation. Data also provided evidence for a role for nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) in cannabinoid signalling. PPARγ expression, at both protein and mRNA levels, was significantly down-regulated after WIN treatment and its inhibition, either by specific antagonists or by down-regulation via gene silencing, induced effects on cell viability as well as on ER stress and autophagic markers similar to those obtained in the presence of WIN. Moreover, the observation that the increase in p62 level and the induction of LMP were also modified by PPARγ antagonists seemed to indicate that PPARγ down-regulation was crucial to determinate the block of autophagic flux, thus confirming the critical role of PPARγ in WIN action. In conclusion, at our knowledge, our results are the first to show that the reduction of PPARγ levels contributes to WIN-induced colon carcinoma cell death by blocking the pro-survival autophagic response of cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Autophagy / drug effects*
  • Benzoxazines / pharmacology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Down-Regulation
  • Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Morpholines / pharmacology*
  • Naphthalenes / pharmacology*
  • PPAR gamma / genetics
  • PPAR gamma / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzoxazines
  • Morpholines
  • Naphthalenes
  • PPAR gamma
  • (3R)-((2,3-dihydro-5-methyl-3-((4-morpholinyl)methyl)pyrrolo-(1,2,3-de)-1,4-benzoxazin-6-yl)(1-naphthalenyl))methanone