Gliomas are one of the most common types of malignant tumors worldwide, however, an effective therapeutic strategy not yet been fully determined. The present study aimed to investigate the anti-glioma activity and underlying mechanisms of pregnenolone, which originates from cholesterol and is metabolized into important steroid hormones in the body. The results demonstrated that 100 μM pregnenolone induced a significant loss of cell viability in various malignant glioma cell lines. In the U-87 MG, LN-18 and C6 cell lines, the loss of cell viability resulted from cell apoptosis, which was evidenced by apoptotic nuclear morphology changes and caspase 3 activation. Moreover, the increased activities of caspase 8 and 9 strongly indicated that pregnenolone activated the extrinsic and intrinsic pathways of apoptosis. Additionally, glioma cell apoptosis was prevented by the general caspase inhibitor, Z-VAD-FMK. In the C6 cells, upregulation of Fas and Fas ligand triggered the activation of the extrinsic pathway, whereas knockdown of Fas significantly abrogated the cell apoptosis that was induced by pregnenolone. Furthermore, downregulation of the anti-apoptotic protein, B-cell lymphoma 2 and upregulation of pro-apoptotic proteins, such as Bax and Bak, activated the intrinsic pathway. In conclusion, pregnenolone induced glioma cell apoptosis in a caspase-dependent manner, which was mediated by activation of the extrinsic and intrinsic apoptotic pathways.
Keywords: apoptosis; glioma; pregnenolone.