Earlier, we showed that in cancer cells, AMP-activated kinase (AMPK) participates in a signal transduction pathway involving ATM-AMPK-p53/p21cip1 which is activated by ionizing radiation (IR) to mediate G2-M arrest and enhanced cytotoxicity. We also observed that AMPK modulates ATM expression and activity and the IR response of the Akt-mTOR pathway. Since the ATM, AMPK and Akt pathways are key targets of novel radio-sensitizing therapeutics, we examined the chronic modultion of expression and activity of those pathways by IR alone in xenograft models of lung cancer.
Immuno-compromised mice were grafted with human lung A549 and H1299 cells, were treated with a single fraction of 0 or 10 Gy, and left to grow for 8 weeks. Extracted tumors were subjected to lysis and immunoblotting or fixation and immunohistochemical analysis.
IR inhibited significantly xenograft growth and was associated with increased expression of Ataxia Telengiectasia Mutated (ATM) and enhanced phosphorylation of two ATM targets, H2Ax and checkpoint kinase Chk2. Irradiated tumours showed increased total AMPK levels and phosphorylation of AMPK and its substrate Acetyl-CoA Carboxylase (ACC). IR led to enhanced expression and phosphorylation of p53 and cyclin dependent kinase inhibitors p21cip1 and p27kip1. However, irradiated tumours had reduced phosphorylation of Akt, mTOR and it‘s target translation initiation inhibitor 4EBP1. Irradiated xenografts showed reduced microvessel density, reduced expression of CD31 but increased expression of hypoxia-induced factor 1A (HIF1a) compared to controls.
IR inhibits epithelial cancer tumour growth and results in sustained expression and activation of ATM-Chk2, and AMPK-p53/p21cip1/p27kip1 but partial inhibition of the Akt-mTOR signaling pathways. Future studies should examine causality between those events and explore whether further modulation of the AMPK and Akt-mTOR pathways by novel therapeutics can sensitize lung tumours to radiation.