Sirolimus induces apoptosis and reverses multidrug resistance in human osteosarcoma cells in vitro via increasing microRNA-34b expression

Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2016 Apr;37(4):519-29. doi: 10.1038/aps.2015.153. Epub 2016 Feb 29.


Aim: Multi-drug resistance poses a critical bottleneck in chemotherapy. Given the up-regulation of mTOR pathway in many chemoresistant cancers, we examined whether sirolimus (rapamycin), a first generation mTOR inhibitor, might induce human osteosarcoma (OS) cell apoptosis and increase the sensitivity of OS cells to anticancer drugs in vitro.

Methods: Human OS cell line MG63/ADM was treated with sirolimus alone or in combination with doxorubicin (ADM), gemcitabine (GEM) or methotrexate (MTX). Cell proliferation and apoptosis were detected using CCK-8 assay and flow cytometry, respectively. MiRNAs in the cells were analyzed with miRNA microarray. The targets of miR-34b were determined based on TargetScan analysis and luciferase reporter assays. The expression of relevant mRNA and proteins was measured using qRT-PCR and Western blotting. MiR-34, PAK1 and ABCB1 levels in 40 tissue samples of OS patients were analyzed using qRT-PCR and in situ hybridization assays.

Results: Sirolimus (1-100 nmol/L) dose-dependently suppressed the cell proliferation (IC50=23.97 nmol/L) and induced apoptosis. Sirolimus (10 nmol/L) significantly sensitized the cells to anticancer drugs, leading to decreased IC50 values of ADM, GEM and MTX (from 25.48, 621.41 and 21.72 μmol/L to 4.93, 73.92 and 6.77 μmol/L, respectively). Treatment of with sirolimus increased miR-34b levels by a factor of 7.5 in the cells. Upregulation of miR-34b also induced apoptosis and increased the sensitivity of the cells to the anticancer drugs, whereas transfection with miR-34b-AMO, an inhibitor of miR-34b, reversed the anti-proliferation effect of sirolimus. Two key regulators of cell cycle, apoptosis and multiple drug resistance, PAK1 and ABCB1, were demonstrated to be the direct targets of miR-34b. In 40 tissue samples of OS patients, significantly higher miR-34 ISH score and lower PAK5 and ABCB1 scores were detected in the chemo-sensitive group.

Conclusion: Sirolimus increases the sensitivity of human OS cells to anticancer drugs in vitro by up-regulating miR-34b interacting with PAK1 and ABCB1. A low miR-34 level is an indicator of poor prognosis in OS patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Bone Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Deoxycytidine / pharmacology
  • Doxorubicin / pharmacology
  • Drug Resistance, Multiple / drug effects
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Drug Synergism
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Methotrexate / pharmacology
  • MicroRNAs / genetics
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Osteosarcoma / drug therapy*
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • MIRN34 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Deoxycytidine
  • Doxorubicin
  • gemcitabine
  • Sirolimus
  • Methotrexate