Cathepsin L silencing enhances arsenic trioxide mediated in vitro cytotoxicity and apoptosis in glioblastoma U87MG spheroids

Monika Primon, Peter C. Huszthy, Helena Motaln*, Krishna M. Talasila, Ana Torkar, Rolf Bjerkvig, Tamara Lah Turnšek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Despite improved treatment options, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) remains the most aggressive brain tumour with the shortest post-diagnostic survival. Arsenite (As2O3) is already being used in the treatment of acute promyelocytic leukaemia (APL), yet its effects on GBM have not been evaluated in detail. In U87MG cell monolayers, we have previously shown that arsenite cytotoxicity significantly increases upon transient inhibition of lysosomal protease Cathepsin L (CatL). As multicellular spheroids more closely represent in vivo tumours, we aimed to evaluate the impact of permanent CatL silencing on arsenite treatment in U87MG spheroids. CatL was stably silenced using shRNA expression plasmid packed lentiviruses. By using metabolic- and cell viability assays, we demonstrated that long-term CatL silencing significantly increased arsenite cytotoxicity in U87MG spheroids. Silenced CatL also increased arsenite-mediated apoptosis in spheroids via elevated p53 expression, Bax/Bcl2 ratio and caspase 3/7 activity, though with lower efficacy than in monolayers. Arsenite cytotoxicity was enhanced by lower CatL activity, since similar cytotoxicity increase was also observed using the novel CatL inhibitor AT094. The results have significant translational impact, since stable CatL silencing would enable the application of lower systemic doses of arsenite to achieve the desired cytotoxic effects on GBMs in vivo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2637-2648
Number of pages12
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2013


  • Apoptosis
  • Arsenic trioxide
  • Cathepsin L
  • Glioblastoma multiforme
  • Multicellular resistance effect
  • U87MG spheroids


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