The role of apoptosis in therapy and prophylaxis of epithelial tumours by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)


  • Conflicts of interest C. Ulrich has acted as a lecturer for Shire Pharmaceuticals. E. Stockfleth has acted as a lecturer/consultant for Shire Pharmaceuticals. All remaining authors declare no conflict of interest.

Jürgen Eberle.


Summary In addition to having anti-inflammatory activities, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also inhibit neoplastic cell proliferation by inducing apoptosis. Diclofenac is the anti-neoplastic compound in diclofenac 3% gel (SolarazeTM) used for topical treatment of actinic keratosis (AK). Main target of NSAIDs seems to be the inhibition of cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX-2), which is overexpressed in several epithelial tumours and catalyses the synthesis of prostaglandins. The precise mechanism of action of diclofenac in cutaneous cells is still unclear, but induction of apoptosis is a key effect of anti-neoplastic drugs, including NSAIDs.

In this paper we give an overview of the anti-tumoural activities of NSAIDs with emphasis on induction of apoptosis. Cyclo-oxygenase-2-mediated synthesis of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) leads to activation of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), as well as phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt pathways. Induction of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 and Mcl-1, as well as activation of the caspase-8 inhibitor cFLIP have been reported. In addition, altered lipid concentrations in the cytoplasmic membrane may modulate death receptor activities. Downregulation of both the intrinsic mitochondrial and the extrinsic pathways have been reported.

Our data demonstrate induced apoptosis and activation of the caspase cascade in three of four cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cell lines, after treatment with diclofenac plus hyaluronic acid and diclofenac alone; one cell line remained nonresponsive. The effects were less pronounced in normal keratinocytes and cytotoxic effects were not seen. Detailed analysis of apoptosis pathways employed by diclofenac in these cells may help to improve therapeutic strategies and to overcome possible mechanisms that are involved in nonresponsiveness.