Use of cardiac glycosides for treatment of cancer: Determinants of cancer cell sensitivity

Yun Lin, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Cardiac glycoside compounds have traditionally been used to treat congestive heart failure. Recently, reports have suggested that cardiac glycosides may also be useful for treatment of malignant disease. Our research with oleandrin, a cardiac glycoside component of Nerium oleander, has shown it to be a potent inducer of human but not murine tumor cell apoptosis. Determinants of tumor sensitivity to cardiac glycosides were therefore studied in order to understand the species selective cytotoxic effects as well as explore differential sensitivity amongst a variety of human tumor cell lines. An initial model system involved a comparison of human (BRO) to murine (B16) melanoma cells. Human BRO cells were found to express both the sensitive α3 as well as the less sensitive α1 isoform subunits of Na+,K +-ATPase while mouse B16 cells expressed only the α1 isoform. Drug uptake and inhibition of Na+,K+-ATPase activity were also different between BRO and B16 cells. Partially purified human Na+,K+-ATPase enzyme was inhibited by cardiac glycosides at a concentration that was 1000-fold less than that required to inhibit mouse B16 enzyme to the same extent. In addition, uptake of oleandrin and ouabain was 3–4 fold greater in human than murine cells. These data indicate that differential expression of Na+,K+-ATPase isoform composition in BRO and B16 cells as well as drug uptake and total enzyme activity may all be important determinants of tumor cell sensitivity to cardiac glycosides. In a second model system, two in vitro cell culture model systems were investigated. The first consisted of HFU251 (low expression of Na+,K+-ATPase) and U251 (high Na+ ,K+-ATPase expression) cell lines. Also investigated were human BRO cells that had undergone stable transfection with the α1 subunit resulting in an increase in total Na+,K+-ATPase expression. Data derived from these model systems have indicated that increased expression of Na+,K+-ATPase is associated with an increased resistance to cardiac glycosides. Over-expression of Na +,K+-ATPase in tumor cells resulted in an increase of total Na+,K+-ATPase activity and, in turn, a decreased inhibition of Na+,K+-ATPase activity by cardiac glycosides. However, of interest was the observation that increased enzyme expression was also associated with an elevated basal level of glutathione (GSH) within cells. Both increased Na+,K+-ATPase activity and elevated GSH content appear to contribute to a delayed as well as diminished release of cytochrome c and caspase activation. In addition, we have noted an increased colony forming ability in cells with a high level of Na+,K+-ATPase expression. This suggests that Na+,K+-ATPase is actively involved in tumor cell growth and survival.

Subject Area

Cellular biology|Oncology

Recommended Citation

Lin, Yun, "Use of cardiac glycosides for treatment of cancer: Determinants of cancer cell sensitivity" (2003). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3083499.