Pancreatic cancer is the most aggressive cancer worldwide with poor response to current therapeutics. Alisertib (ALS), a potent and selective Aurora kinase A inhibitor, exhibits potent anticancer effects in preclinical and clinical studies; however, the effect and underlying mechanism of ALS in the pancreatic cancer treatment remain elusive. This study aimed to examine the effects of ALS on cell growth, autophagy, and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and to delineate the possible molecular mechanisms in human pancreatic cancer PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells. The results showed that ALS exerted potent cell growth inhibitory, pro-autophagic, and EMT-suppressing effects in PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells. ALS remarkably arrested PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells in G2/M phase via regulating the expression of cyclin-dependent kinases 1 and 2, cyclin B1, cyclin D1, p21 Waf1/Cip1, p27 Kip1, and p53. ALS concentration-dependently induced autophagy in PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells, which may be attributed to the inhibition of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/protein kinase B (Akt)/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (p38 MAPK), and extracellular signal-regulated kinases 1 and 2 (Erk1/2) but activation of 5'-AMP-dependent kinase signaling pathways. ALS significantly inhibited EMT in PANC-1 and BxPC-3 cells with an increase in the expression of E-cadherin and a decrease in N-cadherin. In addition, ALS suppressed the expression of sirtuin 1 (Sirt1) and pre-B cell colony-enhancing factor/visfatin in both cell lines with a rise in the level of acetylated p53. These findings show that ALS induces cell cycle arrest and promotes autophagic cell death but inhibits EMT in pancreatic cancer cells with the involvement of PI3K/Akt/mTOR, p38 MAPK, Erk1/2, and Sirt1-mediated signaling pathways. Taken together, ALS may represent a promising anticancer drug for pancreatic cancer treatment. More studies are warranted to investigate other molecular targets and mechanisms and verify the efficacy and safety of ALS in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Keywords: EMT; Sirt1; alisertib; autophagy; cell cycle; pancreatic cancer.