Effects of Ketoconazole on ACTH-Producing and Non-ACTH-Producing Neuroendocrine Tumor Cells

Horm Cancer. 2019 Jun;10(2-3):107-119. doi: 10.1007/s12672-019-00361-6. Epub 2019 May 18.


Prolonged remission of hypercortisolism with steroidogenesis inhibitors has been described in patients with ectopic adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) syndrome. The anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effect of ketoconazole in human cancer cells was previously suggested. The aim of this study was to explore the effects of ketoconazole on ACTH-producing and non-ACTH-producing neuroendocrine tumor (NET) cell lines. The effects of ketoconazole alone, and in combination with somatostatin analogs, were evaluated in two human cell lines: DMS-79 (ectopic ACTH-producing small cell lung carcinoma) and BON-1 (human pancreatic NET). Total DNA measurement, apoptosis, cell cycle, chromogranin A (CgA)/proopiomelanocortin (POMC) expression by qRT-PCR, serotonin, CgA, and ACTH secretion assays were performed. In both cell lines, ketoconazole significantly suppressed cell growth and colony formation in a dose and time-dependent manner. The effect in DMS-79 was primarily cytotoxic, while it was more apoptotic in BON-1 cells. Ketoconazole also induced increase in G0/G1 phase in both cell lines and arrest in phase G2/M of BON-1 cells. Ketoconazole did not affect the secretion of serotonin, CgA, ACTH, or the mRNA expression of CgA and POMC. Decreased serotonin secretion was observed after the combination treatment with pasireotide. These results suggest a direct effect of ketoconazole on cell proliferation, apoptosis, and cell cycle in both ACTH- and non-ACTH-producing NET cells.

Keywords: Combined therapy; Ketoconazole; Neuroendocrine tumors; Proliferation; Secretion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 14-alpha Demethylase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / metabolism*
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Chromogranin A / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Ketoconazole / pharmacology*
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / drug therapy*
  • Neuroendocrine Tumors / metabolism*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin / metabolism
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / drug therapy*
  • Small Cell Lung Carcinoma / metabolism
  • Somatostatin / analogs & derivatives


  • 14-alpha Demethylase Inhibitors
  • Chromogranin A
  • Serotonin
  • Somatostatin
  • Pro-Opiomelanocortin
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Ketoconazole