Autophagy blockade sensitizes human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma towards CYT997 through enhancing excessively high reactive oxygen species-induced apoptosis

Lixia Gao, Xiangdong Zhao, Liwei Lang, Chloe Shay, W. Andrew Yeudall, Yong Teng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations


Abstract: The functional relationship between apoptosis and autophagy in anticancer drug treatment is extremely complex, and the molecular machinery is obscure. This study aims to investigate the efficacy of CYT997, a novel microtubule-disrupting agent, in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas (HNSCCs) and complete the autophagy-apoptosis puzzle involved in drug action. We report here that CYT997 exhibits anticancer activity by triggering oxidative stress-associated apoptosis in HNSCC cells. Interestingly, upregulation of autophagy by mTOR-dependent pathways appears to have a cytoprotective role in preventing apoptosis by inhibiting CYT997-induced excessively high levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Blockade of autophagy by ATG7 depletion or addition of autophagy inhibitor hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) sensitizes HNSCC cells to CYT997 as evidenced by enhanced ROS-associated apoptosis. Moreover, HCQ exhibits a good synergism with CYT997 on induction of apoptosis in HNSCC xenografts without cytotoxicity, suggesting combined treatment of CYT997 with autophagy inhibitors would increase the anticancer efficacy of CYT997. These findings unveil the importance of ROS in crosstalk between autophagy and apoptosis in CYT997 treatment, raising concerns that genetic or pharmacologic blockade of autophagy should be considered in the design of new therapeutics for HNSCC. Key messages: • CYT997 exhibits anticancer activity by induction of ROS-associated apoptosis. • mTOR-dependent cytoprotective autophagy prevents CYT997-induced apoptosis. • Blockade of autophagy augments CYT997 efficacy by enhanced ROS-associated apoptosis. • Combination of autophagy inhibitors with CYT997 is more effective against HNSCC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)929-938
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Molecular Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018



  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • CYT997
  • Head and neck cancer
  • ROS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Drug Discovery
  • Genetics(clinical)

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