Induction of apoptosis through extrinsic/intrinsic pathways and suppression of ERK/NF-κB signalling participate in anti-glioblastoma of imipramine

J Cell Mol Med. 2020 Apr;24(7):3982-4000. doi: 10.1111/jcmm.15022. Epub 2020 Mar 9.


Glioblastomas are the most aggressive type of brain tumour, with poor prognosis even after standard treatment such as surgical resection, temozolomide and radiation therapy. The overexpression of the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB) in glioblastomas is recognized as an important treatment target. Thus, an urgent need regarding glioblastomas is the development of a new, suitable agent that may show potential for the inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)/NF-κB-mediated glioblastoma progression. Imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, has anti-inflammatory actions against inflamed glial cells; additionally, imipramine can induce glioblastoma toxicity via the activation of autophagy. However, whether imipramine can suppress glioblastoma progression via the induction of apoptosis and blockage of ERK/NF-κB signalling remains unclear. The main purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of imipramine on apoptotic signalling and ERK/NF-κB-mediated glioblastoma progression by using cell proliferation (3-(4,5-Dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide [MTT] assay), flow cytometry, Western blotting, and cell invasion/migration assay analysis in vitro. The ERK and NF-κB inhibitory capacity of imipramine is detected by NF-κB reporter gene assay and Western blotting. Additionally, a glioblastoma-bearing animal model was used to validate the therapeutic efficacy and general toxicity of imipramine. Our results demonstrated that imipramine successfully triggered apoptosis through extrinsic/intrinsic pathways and suppressed the invasion/migration ability of glioblastoma cells. Furthermore, imipramine effectively suppressed glioblastoma progression in vivo via the inhibition of the ERK/NF-κB pathway. In summary, imipramine is a potential anti-glioblastoma drug which induces apoptosis and has the capacity to inhibit ERK/NF-κB signalling.

Keywords: ERK; NF-κB; extrinsic/intrinsic apoptosis; glioblastoma; imipramine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / genetics*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Movement / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • Cell Survival
  • Glioblastoma / drug therapy*
  • Glioblastoma / genetics
  • Glioblastoma / pathology
  • Humans
  • Imipramine / pharmacology*
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System / drug effects
  • NF-kappa B / genetics
  • Transcription Factor RelA / genetics


  • NF-kappa B
  • RELA protein, human
  • Transcription Factor RelA
  • Imipramine