The role of reactive astrocytes in the resistance of melanoma brain metastasis to chemotherapy

Qingtang Lin, The University of Texas Grad. Sch. of Biomed. Sci. at Houston


Brain metastasis is resistant to chemotherapy while the leaky blood-brain-barrier in brain metastasis can not be the underlying reason. Metastatic tumor cells (“seed”) exploit the host microenvironment (“soil”) for survival advantages. Astrocytes which maintain the homeostasis of the brain microenvironment become reactive subsequent to brain damages and protect neurons from various injuries. We observed reactive astrocytes surrounding and infiltrating into brain metastasis in both clinical specimen and experimental animal model, thus raising a possibility that reactive astrocytes may protect tumor cells from cytotoxic chemotherapeutic drugs. ^ To test this hypothesis, we first generated an immortalized astrocyte cell line from H-2Kb-tsA58 mice. The immortal mouse astrocytes expressed specific markers including GFAP. Scanning electron microscopy demonstrated that astrocytes formed direct physical contact with tumor cells. Moreover, the expression of GFAP by astrocytes was up-regulated subsequent to co-culture with tumor cells, indicating that the co-culture of astrocytes and tumor cells may serve as a model to recapitulate the pathophysiological situation of brain metastasis. ^ In co-culture, astrocytes dramatically reduced apoptosis of tumor cells produced by various chemotherapeutic drugs. This protection effect was not because of culturing cells from different species since mouse fibroblasts did not protect tumor cells from chemotherapy. Furthermore, the protection by astrocytes was completely dependent on a physical contact. ^ Gap junctional communication (GJC) served as this physical contact. Tumor cells and astrocytes both expressed the major component of gap junctional channel—connexin 43 and formed functional GJC as evidenced by the “dye transfer” assay. The blockage of GJC between tumor cells and astrocytes by either specific chemical blocker carbenoxolone (CBX) or by genetically knocking down connexin 43 on astrocytes reversed the chemo-protection. ^ Calcium was the signal molecule transmitted through GJC that rescued tumor cells from chemotherapy. Accumulation of cytoplasmic calcium preceded the progress of apoptosis in tumor cells treated with chemotherapeutic drugs. Furthermore, chelation of accumulated cytoplasmic calcium inhibited the apoptosis of tumor cells treated with chemotherapeutic drugs. Most importantly, astrocytes could “shunt” the accumulated cytoplasmic calcium from tumor cells (treated with chemotherapeutic drug) through GJC. We also used gene expression micro-array to investigate global molecular consequence of tumor cells forming GJC with astrocytes. The data demonstrated that astrocytes (but not fibroblasts), through GJC, up-regulated the expressions of several well known survival genes in tumor cells. ^ In summary, this dissertation provides a novel mechanism underlying the resistance of brain metastasis to chemotherapy, which is due to protection by astrocytes through GJC. Interference with the GJC between astrocytes and tumor cells holds great promise in sensitizing brain metastasis to chemotherapy and improving the prognosis for patients with brain metastasis. ^

Subject Area

Biology, Molecular|Health Sciences, Oncology

Recommended Citation

Lin, Qingtang, "The role of reactive astrocytes in the resistance of melanoma brain metastasis to chemotherapy" (2009). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3394954.