Cysteine Allows Ovarian Cancer Cells to Adapt to Hypoxia and to Escape From Carboplatin Cytotoxicity

Sci Rep. 2018 Jun 22;8(1):9513. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-27753-y.


Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynaecologic malignancy and the main cause of death from gynaecologic cancer, due to late diagnosis and chemoresistance. Studies have reported the role of cysteine in cancer, by contributing for hydrogen sulphide (H2S) generation and as a precursor of glutathione (GSH). However, the role of cysteine in the adaptation to hypoxia and therapy response remains unclear. We used several ovarian cancer cell lines, ES2, OVCAR3, OVCAR8, A2780 and A2780cisR, to clarify cysteine relevance in ovarian cancer cells survival upon hypoxia and carboplatin. Results show that ES2 and OVCAR8 cells presented a stronger dependence on cysteine availability upon hypoxia and carboplatin exposure than OVCAR3 cells. Interestingly, the A2780 cisR, but not A2780 parental cells, benefits from cysteine upon carboplatin exposure, showing that cysteine is crucial for chemoresistance. Moreover, GSH degradation and subsequent cysteine recycling pathway is associated with ovarian cancer as seen in peripheral blood serum from patients. Higher levels of total free cysteine (Cys) and homocysteine (HCys) were found in ovarian cancer patients in comparison with benign tumours and lower levels of GSH were found in ovarian neoplasms patients in comparison with healthy individuals. Importantly, the total and S-Homocysteinylated levels distinguished blood donors from patients with neoplasms as well as patients with benign from patients with malignant tumours. The levels of S-cysteinylated proteins distinguish blood donors from patients with neoplasms and the free levels of Cys in serum distinguish blood from patients with benign tumours from patients with malignant tumours. Herein we disclosed that cysteine contributes for a worse disease prognosis, allowing faster adaptation to hypoxia and protecting cells from carboplatin. The measurement of serum cysteine levels can be an effective tool for early diagnosis, for outcome prediction and follow up of disease progression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / drug effects*
  • Ascitic Fluid / metabolism
  • Carboplatin / adverse effects*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cysteine / metabolism
  • Cysteine / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Space / drug effects
  • Intracellular Space / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Tumor Hypoxia / drug effects*


  • Carboplatin
  • Cysteine