The sphingolipid metabolising enzyme Acid Sphingomyelinase (A-SMase) has been recently shown to inhibit melanoma progression and correlate inversely to tumour grade. In this study we have investigated the role of A-SMase in the chemo-resistance to anticancer treatment using mice with melanoma allografts and melanoma cells differing in terms of expression/activity of A-SMase. Since autophagy is emerging as a key mechanism in tumour growth and chemo-resistance, we have also investigated whether an action of A-SMase in autophagy can explain its role. Melanoma sensitivity to chemotherapeutic agent cisplatin in terms of cell viability/apoptosis, tumour growth, and animal survival depended directly on the A-SMase levels in tumoural cells. A-SMase action was due to inhibition of autophagy through activation of Akt/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway. Treatment of melanoma-bearing mice with the autophagy inhibitor chloroquine restored sensitivity to cisplatin of tumours expressing low levels of A-SMase while no additive effects were observed in tumours characterised by sustained A-SMase levels. The fact that A-SMase in melanomas affects mTOR-regulated autophagy and plays a central role in cisplatin efficacy encourages pre-clinical testing on the modulation of A-SMase levels/activity as possible novel anti-neoplastic strategy.
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