Aggressive migration in acidic pH of a glioblastoma cancer stem cell line in vitro is independent of ASIC and KCa3.1 ion channels, but involves phosphoinositide 3-kinase

Pflugers Arch. 2023 Mar;475(3):405-416. doi: 10.1007/s00424-022-02781-w. Epub 2022 Dec 16.


The microenvironment of proliferative and aggressive tumours, such as the brain tumour glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), is often acidic, hypoxic, and nutrient deficient. Acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs) are proton-sensitive Na+ channels that have been proposed to play a role in pH sensing and in modulation of cancer cell migration. We previously reported that primary glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs), which grow as multicellular tumour spheroids, express functional ASIC1a and ASIC3, whereas ASIC2a is downregulated in GSCs. Using a 2.5D migration assay, here we report that acidic pH dramatically increased migration of GSCs of the pro-neural subtype. Pharmacological blockade as well as CRISPR-Cas9-mediated gene knock-out of ASIC1a or stable overexpression of ASIC2a, however, revealed that neither ASIC1a nor ASIC3, nor downregulation of ASIC2a, mediated the aggressive migration at acidic pH. Therefore, we tested the role of two other proteins previously implicated in cancer cell migration: the Ca2+-activated K+ channel KCa3.1 (KCNN4) and phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K). While pharmacological blockade of KCa3.1 did also not affect migration, blockade of PI3K decreased migration at acidic pH to control levels. In summary, our study reveals a strongly enhanced migration of GSCs at acidic pH in vitro and identifies PI3K as an important mediator of this effect.

Keywords: Acid sensing ion channel; Extracellular acidity; Glioblastoma multiforme; Tumour microenvironment; Tumour spheroids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acid Sensing Ion Channels / genetics
  • Acid Sensing Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Glioblastoma*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Intermediate-Conductance Calcium-Activated Potassium Channels / metabolism
  • Neoplastic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Acid Sensing Ion Channels
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases
  • Intermediate-Conductance Calcium-Activated Potassium Channels