Ibrutinib, a Bruton's tyrosine kinase inhibitor, exhibits antitumoral activity and induces autophagy in glioblastoma

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2017 Jul 17;36(1):96. doi: 10.1186/s13046-017-0549-6.


Background: Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common and aggressive primary brain tumor in adults. Ibrutinib, a Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK) inhibitor, is a novel anticancer drug used for treating several types of cancers. In this study, we aimed to determine the role of ibrutinib on GBM.

Methods: Cell proliferation was determined by using cell viability, colony formation, and 5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine (EdU) assays. Cell cycle and cell apoptosis were analyzed by flow cytometry. Cell migratory ability was evaluated by wound healing assays and trans-well migration assays. ATG7 expression was knocked-down by transfection with Atg7-specific small interfering RNA. Overexpression of active Akt protein was achieved by transfecting the cells with a plasmid expressing constitutively active Akt (CA-Akt). Transmission electron microscopy was performed to examine the formation of autophagosomes in cells. Immunofluorescence and western blot analyses were used to analyze protein expression. Tumor xenografts in nude mice and immunohistochemistry were performed to evaluate the effect of ibrutinib on tumor growth in vivo.

Results: Ibrutinib inhibited cellular proliferation and migration, and induced apoptosis and autophagy in LN229 and U87 cells. Overexpression of the active Akt protein decreased ibrutinib-induced autophagy, while inhibiting Akt by LY294002 treatment enhanced ibrutinib-induced autophagy. Specific inhibition of autophagy by 3-methyladenine (3MA) or Atg7 targeting with small interfering RNA (si-Atg7) enhanced the anti-GBM effect of ibrutinib in vitro and in vivo.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that ibrutinib exerts a profound antitumor effect and induces autophagy through Akt/mTOR signaling pathway in GBM cells. Autophagy inhibition promotes the antitumor activity of ibrutinib in GBM. Our findings provide important insights into the action of an anticancer agent combining with autophagy inhibitor for malignant glioma.

Keywords: Anti-tumor; Autophagy; Glioblastoma; Ibrutinib.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autophagy
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Glioblastoma / drug therapy*
  • Glioblastoma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Nude
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Pyrazoles / pharmacology
  • Pyrazoles / therapeutic use*
  • Pyrimidines / pharmacology
  • Pyrimidines / therapeutic use*


  • PCI 32765
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyrazoles
  • Pyrimidines