Cytotoxic action of phorbol esters on human pancreatic cancer cells



We previously showed that phorbol esters are cytotoxic to human thyroid epithelial cells expressing a mutant RAS oncogene. Here we explore the generality of this finding using cells derived from pancreatic cancer, which, like thyroid, shows a high frequency of RAS mutation, but is a much greater cause of cancer mortality. The response to phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) and related agents was assessed on a panel of 9 pancreatic cancer cell lines, using a range of assays for cell growth and death in vitro and in vivo. In most lines, PMA induced non-apoptotic cell death which was, surprisingly, independent of its “classic” target, protein kinase C. With 24 hr exposure, the IC50 in the most sensitive line (Aspc-1) was <1 ng/ml (1.6 nM), with survival undetectable at concentrations ≥≥16 nM, and after only 1 hr exposure the IC50 was still ≤≤16 nM. Interestingly, the efficacy of a second phorbol ester, phorbol dibutyrate, was much lower, and the PMA analogue bryostatin-1, which is in clinical trials against other tumour types, was totally inactive. Pre-treatment of Aspc-1 cells with PMA before subcutaneous inoculation into nude mice prevented, or greatly retarded, subsequent xenograft tumour growth. Furthermore, treatment of established tumours with a single peri-tumoral injection of PMA induced extensive cell death and arrested tumour development. Taken together with recent Phase 1 clinical studies, these data suggest that activity against pancreatic cancer will be attainable by systemic administration of PMA, and point to potential novel therapeutic targets for this highly aggressive cancer. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.