School of Health Sciences
Heléne Lindholm defends her thesis "Repurposing digitoxin in the treatment of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma - genotypic and phenotypic features as biomarkers for digitoxin sensitivity in vitro".
The defence is held in room G110 in the G Building at the University of Skövde.
The incidence of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is increasing worldwide. The dismal prognosis and lack of effective treatments urges for increased research efforts in developing new treatment regimens. Since the development of new cancer treatments are expensive and time consuming, repurposing drugs is preferable when possible. This strategy will also be of great value for people in low income countries, to increase the availability of effective cancer treatments to affordable costs. Digitoxin, a cardiac glycoside, has been shown to have anti-cancer effects. It binds to the α subunit of the Na+/K+-ATPase, leading to increased concentrations of intracellular calcium and eventually cell death. There seems also to be other mechanisms elicited in cancer cells by digitoxin. The α subunit occurs in three isoforms, of which α3 has the highest affinity to digitoxin and frequently found over-expressed in tumor cells compared to normal cells.
PDAC cancer cells, both cell lines and tumors, differ in their genotype and in the metabolic subtype, proliferation rate and inflammatory status. To be able to individualize treatment regimens it is important to be aware of the specific vulnerabilities (genotypic or phenotypic characteristics increasing the sensitivity to digitoxin) of each PDAC tumor/cell line. This research aims to investigate the potential of using digitoxin as an anti-cancer treatment in PDAC, and analyze its effects on cell viability, metabolism and inflammatory status in PDAC cell lines in vitro with the goal to find biomarkers for digitoxin sensitivity.
The analyses of the effects of digitoxin was performed in five cell lines derived from PDAC tumors, either from primary tumors or metastases. Cell lines derived from PDAC are sensitive to digitoxin treatment to different degrees. High expression of α3 seems to be indicative for digitoxin sensitivity, as do a high proliferation rate seen in cell lines derived from primary tumors. Both subunit expression and proliferation rate should be further evaluated in PDAC tumors to confirm their potential to be used as biomarkers clinically.
In the hunt for the working mechanism behind the anti-cancer effects of digitoxin, the choline pathway, a pathway commonly affected in tumors was enlightened in the metabolomics study, affected in all five cell lines tested. Choline metabolites are important for maintaining the cell membrane and are involved in energy metabolism using lipids. Digitoxin induced an up-regulation of choline and glycerophosphocholine, which rendered us to propose a novel theory about possible interactions between two functional complexes in the cell membrane, the Na+/K+-ATPase/EGFR/c-Src and the EGFR/c-Src – Chkα. The hypothesis is that when digitoxin binds to the Na+/K+-ATPase it leads to inactivation of Chkα with a subsequent decrease in the synthesis of phosphocholine and phosphatidylcholine. Since cancer cells rely on abundance of choline metabolites, we believe an inhibition of this pathway to be deleterious for these cells.
Finally, we conclude that digitoxin has great potential as an anti-cancer treatment for some patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. To optimize treatment results, a thorough investigation of the tumor genotype and phenotype must be done for each patient. To further increase treatment success, combination of digitoxin with other treatments for synergistic effects could be beneficial.
Sofie Mohlin, Docent, Lund University
Katarina Ejeskär, Professor, University of Skövde
Ferenc Szekeres, Senior Lecturer, University of Skövde
Maria Faresjö, Professor, Chalmers University of Technology
Daniel Giglio, Docent, University of Gothenburg
Gianluca Tognon, Docent, University of Skövde
Åsa Andersson, Professor, Halmstad University
Åsa Sjöling, Docent, University of Gothenburg