Background: Accumulating evidence suggest that autophagy plays a pivotal role in various anticancer therapies, including photodynamic therapy (PDT), acting as a pro-death or pro-survival mechanism in a context-dependent manner. Therefore, we aimed to determine the role of autophagy in Photofrin-based PDT.
Methods: In vitro cytotoxic/cytostatic effects of PDT were evaluated with crystal violet cell viability assay. Autophagy induction was analyzed by immunoblotting and immunofluorescence using anti-LC3 antibody. Autophagy was inhibited by shRNA-mediated ATG5 knockdown or CRISPR/Cas9-mediated ATG5 knockout. Apoptosis was assessed by flow cytometry analysis of propidium iodide and anexin V-positive cells as well as by detection of cleaved PARP and caspase 3 proteins using immunoblotting. Protein carbonylation was evaluated by the 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine (DNPH) method.
Results: Photofrin-PDT leads to robust autophagy induction in two cancer cell lines, Hela and MCF-7. shRNA-mediated knockdown of ATG5 only partially blocks autophagic response and only marginally affects the sensitivity of Hela and MCF-7 cells to PDT. ATG5 knockout in HeLa cell line utilizing CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing results in increased PDT-mediated cytotoxicity, which is accompanied by an enhanced apoptotic response and increased accumulation of carbonylated proteins.
Conclusions: Altogether, these observations imply that autophagy contributes to Photofrin-PDT resistance by enabling clearance of carbonylated and other damaged proteins. Therefore, autophagy inhibition may serve as a strategy to improve PDT efficacy.
Keywords: ATG5; Autophagy; CRISR/Cas-9; Photodynamic therapy; Photofrin.