Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM, astrocytoma grade IV) is the most common malignant primary brain tumor in adults. Addressing the shortage of effective treatment options for this cancer, we explored repurposing of existing drugs into combinations with potent activity against GBM cells. We report that the phytoalexin pterostilbene is a potentiator of two drugs with previously reported anti-GBM activity, the EGFR inhibitor gefitinib and the antidepressant sertraline. Combinations of either of these two compounds with pterostilbene suppress cell growth, viability, sphere formation and inhibit migration in tumor GBM cell (GC) cultures. The potentiating effect of pterostilbene was observed to a varying degree across a panel of 41 patient-derived GCs, and correlated in a case specific manner with the presence of missense mutation of EGFR and PIK3CA and a focal deletion of the chromosomal region 1p32. We identify pterostilbene-induced cell cycle arrest, synergistic inhibition of MAPK activity and induction of Thioredoxin interacting protein (TXNIP) as possible mechanisms behind pterostilbene's effect. Our results highlight a nontoxic stilbenoid compound as a modulator of anticancer drug response, and indicate that pterostilbene might be used to modulate two anticancer compounds in well-defined sets of GBM patients.
Keywords: cancer therapeutics; drug repurposing; glioblastoma; glioblastoma initiating cells; stilbenoids.