Acquired resistance to zoledronic acid and the parallel acquisition of an aggressive phenotype are mediated by p38-MAP kinase activation in prostate cancer cells

M. R. Milone, B. Pucci, F. Bruzzese, C. Carbone, G. Piro, S. Costantini, F. Capone, A. Leone, E. Di Gennaro, M. Caraglia, A. Budillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The nitrogen-containing bisphosphonates (N-BP) zoledronic acid (ZOL) inhibits osteoclast-mediated bone resorption, and it is used to prevent skeletal complications from bone metastases. ZOL has also demonstrated anticancer activities in preclinical models and, recently, in cancer patients, highlighting the interest in determining eventual mechanisms of resistance against this agent. In our study, we selected and characterised a resistant subline of prostate cancer (PCa) cells to better understand the mechanisms, by which tumour cells can escape the antitumour effect of ZOL. DU145R80-resistant cells were selected in about 5 months using stepwise increasing concentrations of ZOL from DU145 parental cells. DU145R80 cells showed a resistance index value of 5.5 and cross-resistance to another N-BP, pamidronate, but not to the non-nitrogen containing BP clodronate. Notably, compared with DU145 parental cells, DU145R80 developed resistance to apoptosis and anoikis, as well as overexpressed the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2 and oncoprotein c-Myc. Moreover, DU145R80 cells underwent epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and showed increased expression of the metalloproteases MMP-2/9, as well as increased invading capability. Interestingly, compared with DU145, DU145R80 cells also increased the gene expression and protein secretion of VEGF and the cytokines Eotaxin-1 and IL-12. At the molecular level, DU145R80 cells showed strong activation of the p38-MAPK-dependent survival pathway compared with parental sensitive cells. Moreover, using the p38-inhibitor SB203580, we completely reversed the resistance to ZOL, as well as EMT marker expression and invasion. Furthermore, SB203580 treatment reduced the expression of VEGF, Eotaxin-1, IL-12, MMP-9, Bcl-2 and c-Myc. Thus, for the first time, we demonstrate that the p38-MAPK pathway can be activated under continuous extensive exposure to ZOL in PCa cells and that the p38-MAPK pathway has a critical role in the induction of resistance, as well as in the acquisition of a more aggressive and invasive phenotype.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere641
JournalCell Death and Disease
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


  • Drug resistance
  • P38-MAPK
  • Prostate cancer
  • Zoledronic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Immunology
  • Cancer Research
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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