Valproic Acid Promotes Human Glioma U87 Cells Apoptosis and Inhibits Glycogen Synthase Kinase-3β Through ERK/Akt Signaling

Cell Physiol Biochem. 2016;39(6):2173-2185. doi: 10.1159/000447912. Epub 2016 Nov 2.


Background: Valproic acid (VPA), an established antiepileptic drug, was assessed for antitumor activity, including its effects on glioblastoma, but its role has not been determined.

Methods: In the present study, we investigated VPA-induced apoptosis effects on human U87 cells by cell viability, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release, TUNEL/Hoechst staining and flow cytometric in vitro, then we further explored the underlying molecular mechanisms using the selective antagonists PD98059, LY294002 and SB216763.

Results: The data showed that VPA dose-dependent induction of glioma U87 cells to undergo apoptosis through the mitochondria-dependent pathway in vitro. VPA activated the ERK/Akt pathways by increasing their protein phosphorylation and in turn inhibited GKS3β activation by the induction of GKS3β phosphorylation. However, the MAPK inhibitor PD98059 and/or PI3K inhibitor LY294002 were able to antagonize the effects of VPA by abolishing ERK/Akt activations and cancelling GSK3β suppression, thus it impaired VPA apoptosis-inducing effects on glioma cells. Furthermore, the GSK3β inhibitor SB216763 caused a strong suppression of GSK3β activity, which showed similar effects of VPA on regulation of protein expression and apoptosis.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that GSK3β may be the central hub for VPA-induced apoptosis and VPA can be further evaluated as a novel agent for glioma therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Brain Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / metabolism*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Glioma / enzymology*
  • Glioma / pathology*
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Valproic Acid / pharmacology*


  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Valproic Acid
  • Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 beta
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-akt
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases