Background: Pioglitazone, a synthetic peroxisome proliferator activated receptor (PPAR-γ) ligand, is known as an antidiabetic drug included in the thiazolidinediones (TZDs) class. It regulates the lipid and glucose cell metabolism and recently a role in the inhibition of numerous cancer cell processes has been described. Methods: In our work we investigate the anti-tumor effects of pioglitazone in in vitro models of non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and also, we generated ex-vivo three-dimensional (3D) cultures from human lung adenocarcinoma (ADK) as a model to test drug efficacy observed in vitro. The inhibitory effect of pioglitazone on cell proliferation, apoptosis and cell invasion in a panel of human NSCLC cell lines was evaluated by multiple assays. Results: Pioglitazone reduced proliferative and invasive abilities with an IC 50 ranging between 5 and 10 μM and induced apoptosis of NSCLC cells. mRNA microarray expression profiling showed a down regulation of MAPK, Myc and Ras genes after treatment with pioglitazone; altered gene expression was confirmed by protein analysis in a dose-related reduction of survivin and phosphorylated proteins levels of MAPK pathway. Interestingly mRNA microarray analysis showed also that pioglitazone affects TGFβ pathway, which is important in the epithelial-to-mesenchimal transition (EMT) process, by down-regulating TGFβR1 and SMAD3 mRNA expression. In addition, extracellular acidification rate (ECAR) and a proportional reduction of markers of altered glucose metabolism in treated cells demonstrated also cell bioenergetics modulation by pioglitazone. Conclusions: Data indicate that PPAR-γ agonists represent an attractive treatment tool and by suppression of cell growth (in vitro and ex vivo models) and of invasion via blockade of MAPK cascade and TGFβ/SMADs signaling, respectively, and its role in cancer bioenergetics and metabolism indicate that PPAR-γ agonists represent an attractive treatment tool for NSCLC.
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