Autophagy inhibition suppresses hormone production and cell growth in pituitary tumor cells: A potential approach to pituitary tumors

Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2024 May 15:586:112196. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2024.112196. Epub 2024 Mar 8.


Pituitary tumors (PTs) represent about 10% of all intracranial tumors, and most are benign. However, some PTs exhibit continued growth despite multimodal therapies. Although temozolomide (TMZ), an alkylating chemotherapeutic agent, is a first-line medical treatment for aggressive PTs, some PTs are resistant to TMZ. Existing literature indicated the involvement of autophagy in cell growth in several types of tumors, including PTs, and autophagy inhibitors have anti-tumor effects. In this study, the expression of several autophagy-inducible genes, including Atg3, Beclin1, Map1lc3A, Map1lc3b, Ulk1, Wipi2, and Tfe3 in two PT cell lines, the mouse corticotroph AtT-20 cells and the rat mammosomatotroph GH4 cells were identified. Down regulation of Tfe3, a master switch of basal autophagy, using RNA interference, suppressed cell proliferation in AtT-20 cells, suggesting basal autophagy contributes to the maintenance of cellular functions in PT cells. Expectedly, treatment with bafilomycin A1, an autophagy inhibitor, suppressed cell proliferation, increased the cleavage of PARP1, and reduced ACTH production in AtT-20 cells. Treatment with two additional autophagy inhibitors, chloroquine (CQ) and monensin, demonstrated similar effects on cell proliferation, apoptosis, and ACTH production in AtT-20 cells. Also, treatment with CQ suppressed cell proliferation and growth hormone production in GH4 cells. Moreover, the combination of CQ and TMZ had an additive effect on the inhibition of cell proliferation in AtT-20 and GH4 cells. The additive effect of anti-cancer drugs such as CQ alone or in combination with TMZ may represent a novel therapeutic approach for PTs, in particular tumors with resistance to TMZ.

Keywords: Chloroquine; Combination therapy; Pituitary tumor; Temozolomide.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Chloroquine / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Pituitary Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Rats
  • Temozolomide / pharmacology


  • Chloroquine
  • Temozolomide
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone
  • Basic Helix-Loop-Helix Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors