Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 Regulates Cell Death and Survival Signaling in Tumor Cells under Redox Stress

Roberta Venè, Barbara Cardinali, Giuseppe Arena, Nicoletta Ferrari, Roberto Benelli, Simona Minghelli, Alessandro Poggi, Douglas M. Noonan, Adriana Albini, Francesca Tosetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Targeting tumor-specific metabolic adaptations is a promising anticancer strategy when tumor defense mechanisms are restrained. Here, we show that redox-modulating drugs including the retinoid N-(4-hydroxyphenyl)retinamide (4HPR), the synthetic triterpenoid bardoxolone (2-cyano-3,12-dioxooleana-1,9(11)-dien-28-oic acid methyl ester), arsenic trioxide (As2O3), and phenylethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), while affecting tumor cell viability, induce sustained Ser9 phosphorylation of the multifunctional kinase glycogen synthase kinase 3β (GSK3β). The antioxidant N-acetylcysteine decreased GSK3β phosphorylation and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase cleavage induced by 4HPR, As2O3, and PEITC, implicating oxidative stress in these effects. GSK3β phosphorylation was associated with up-regulation of antioxidant enzymes, in particular heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), and transient elevation of intracellular glutathione (GSH) in cells surviving acute stress, before occurrence of irreversible damage and death. Genetic inactivation of GSK3β or transfection with the non-phosphorylatable GSK3β-S9A mutant inhibited HO-1 induction under redox stress, while tumor cells resistant to 4HPR exhibited increased GSK3β phosphorylation, HO-1 expression, and GSH levels. The above-listed findings are consistent with a role for sustained GSK3β phosphorylation in a signaling network activating antioxidant effector mechanisms during oxidoreductive stress. These data underlie the importance of combination regimens of antitumor redox drugs with inhibitors of survival signaling to improve control of tumor development and progression and overcome chemoresistance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)710-722
Number of pages13
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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