Inhibition of pRB Pathway Differentially Modulates Apoptosis in Esophageal Cancer Cells

Transl Oncol. 2017 Oct;10(5):726-733. doi: 10.1016/j.tranon.2017.06.008. Epub 2017 Jul 19.


Esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Current chemotherapy regimens include a combination of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and cisplatin, but more efficient therapy strategies are needed to increase 5-year survival. Alterations in the signaling pathway of the tumor suppressor gene Rb-1, which encodes a phosphoprotein (pRB) that negatively regulates the G1/S transition of the cell cycle, are present in 70% of all tumors, but its role in esophageal cancer is still unclear. Most of these are alterations leading to up-regulation of the activity of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) to phosphorylate pRB, which suggests that keeping the wild type pRB phosphorylated might be advantageous. Besides proliferation, pRB also regulates apoptosis induced by tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and DNA-damage. We investigated the status of phosphorylation of pRB along esophageal tumorigenesis stages, as well as whether hyperphosphorylation of pRB could suppress apoptosis induced by cisplatin, 5-FU, or TNF-α in esophageal cancer cells. pRB phosphorylation increased progressively from normal esophageal tissue to metaplasia and adenocarcinoma, suggesting that pRB phosphorylation increases along esophageal tumor stages. When RB-1 was knocked down or CDK inhibitors reduced the levels of phosphorylated pRB, opposite apoptotic effects were observed, depending on the combination of drugs tested: whereas TNF-α- and cisplatin-induced apoptosis increased, 5-FU-induced apoptosis decreased. Taken together, these data suggest that pRB plays a role in esophageal adenocarcinoma and that, depending on the type of anti-cancer treatment, combining CDK inhibitors and chemotherapy has the potential to increase the sensitivity of esophageal cancer cells to cell death.