Drug resistance induces the upregulation of H2S-producing enzymes in HCT116 colon cancer cells

Biochem Pharmacol. 2018 Mar;149:174-185. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2017.10.007. Epub 2017 Oct 20.


Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) production in colon cancer cells supports cellular bioenergetics and proliferation. The aim of the present study was to investigate the alterations in H2S homeostasis during the development of resistance to 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), a commonly used chemotherapeutic agent. A 5-FU-resistant HCT116 human colon cancer cell line was established by serial passage in the presence of increasing 5-FU concentrations. The 5-FU-resistant cells also demonstrated a partial resistance to an unrelated chemotherapeutic agent, oxaliplatin. Compared to parental cells, the 5-FU-resistant cells rely more on oxidative phosphorylation than glycolysis for bioenergetic function. There was a significant increase in the expression of the drug-metabolizing cytochrome P450 enzymes CYP1A2 and CYP2A6 in 5-FU-resistant cells. The CYP450 inhibitor phenylpyrrole enhanced 5-FU-induced cytotoxicity in 5-FU-resistant cells. Two major H2S-generating enzymes, cystathionine-β-synthase (CBS) and 3-mercaptopyruvate sulfurtransferase (3-MST) were upregulated in the 5-FU-resistant cells. 5-FU-resistant cells exhibited decreased sensitivity to the CBS inhibitor aminooxyacetate (AOAA) in terms of suppression of cell viability, inhibition of cell proliferation and inhibition of oxidative phosphorylation. However, 5FU-resistant cells remained sensitive to the antiproliferative effect of benserazide (a recently identified, potentially repurposable CBS inhibitor). Taken together, the current data suggest that 5-FU resistance in HCT116 cells is associated with the upregulation of drug-metabolizing enzymes and an enhancement of endogenous H2S production. The anticancer effect of prototypical H2S biosynthesis inhibitor AOAA is impaired in 5-FU-resistant cells, but benserazide remains efficacious. Pharmacological approaches aimed at restoring the sensitivity of 5-FU-resistant cells to chemotherapeutic agents may be useful in the formulation of novel therapeutic strategies against colorectal cancer.

Keywords: Bioenergetics; Cancer; Chemotherapy; Hydrogen sulfide; Proliferation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aminooxyacetic Acid / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Colonic Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cystathionine beta-Synthase / genetics
  • Cystathionine beta-Synthase / metabolism
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Sulfide / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Sulfurtransferases / genetics
  • Sulfurtransferases / metabolism
  • Up-Regulation*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Aminooxyacetic Acid
  • Sulfurtransferases
  • 3-mercaptopyruvate sulphurtransferase
  • Cystathionine beta-Synthase
  • Hydrogen Sulfide