Expression Pattern of Purinergic Signaling Components in Colorectal Cancer Cells and Differential Cellular Outcomes Induced by Extracellular ATP and Adenosine

Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Oct 25;22(21):11472. doi: 10.3390/ijms222111472.


The purine nucleotide adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is known for its fundamental role in cellular bioenergetics. However, in the last decades, different works have described emerging functions for ATP, such as that of a danger signaling molecule acting in the extracellular space on both tumor and stromal compartments. Beside its role in immune cell signaling, several studies have shown that high concentrations of extracellular ATP can directly or indirectly act on cancer cells. Accordingly, it has been reported that purinergic receptors are widely expressed in tumor cells. However, their expression pattern is often associated with contradictory cellular outcomes. In this work, we first investigated gene expression profiles through "RNA-Sequencing" (RNA Seq) technology in four colorectal cancer (CRC) cell lines (HT29, LS513, LS174T, HCT116). Our results demonstrate that CRC cells mostly express the A2B, P2X4, P2Y1, P2Y2 and P2Y11 purinergic receptors. Among these, the P2Y1 and P2Y2 coding genes are markedly overexpressed in all CRC cells compared to the HCEC-1CT normal-like colonic cells. We then explored the cellular outcomes induced by extracellular ATP and adenosine. Our results show that in terms of cell death induction extracellular ATP is consistently more active than adenosine against CRC, while neither compound affected normal-like colonic cell survival. Intriguingly, while for the P2Y2 receptor pharmacological inhibition completely abolished the rise in cytoplasmic Ca2+ observed after ATP exposure in all CRC cell lines, Ca2+ mobilization only impacted the cellular outcome for HT29. In contrast, non-selective phosphodiesterase inhibition completely abolished the effects of extracellular ATP on CRC cells, suggesting that cAMP and/or cGMP levels might determine cellular outcome. Altogether, our study provides novel insights into the characterization of purinergic signaling in CRC.

Keywords: 2D/3D cell culture; Ca2+ mobilization; cell cycle arrest; cell death induction; cyclic nucleotides modulation; extracellular ATP; purinergic receptors.

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine / pharmacology*
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Purinergic / genetics
  • Receptors, Purinergic / metabolism*
  • Transcriptome / drug effects*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Receptors, Purinergic
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Adenosine
  • Calcium