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Michael Höpfner, Viola Baradari, Alexander Huether, Christof Schöfl, and Hans Scherübl

Gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumours (NET) represent a heterogeneous tumour entity. The anti-neoplastic therapy of advanced NET disease is still unsatisfactory and innovative therapeutic approaches are needed. As NET frequently express insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) and their receptors (IGFR), known to promote survival, oncogenic transformation, tumour growth and spreading, the inhibition of the IGF/IGF-receptor system may offer possibilities for novel targeted treatment strategies of NET. Here, we studied the anti-neoplastic effects of an inhibition of the IGF-I receptor (IGF-1R) signalling in NET cells by the novel IGF-1R tyrosine kinase (TK) inhibitor NVP-AEW541, whose anti-neoplastic potency has not yet been tested in NET disease. Using two human NET cell lines with different growth characteristics, we demonstrated that NVP-AEW541 dose-dependently inhibited the proliferation of NET cells by inducing apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. Anti-neoplastic effects of NVP-AEW541 were also detected in primary cultures of human neuroendocrine gastrointestinal tumours. Apoptosis was characterized by activation of the apoptotic key enzyme, caspase-3, as well as by detection of changes in the expression of the pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins, BAX and Bcl-2, after NVP-AEW541 treatment. Cell cycle was arrested at the G1/S checkpoint. The anti-neoplastic effects of NVP-AEW541 involved the inactivation of ERK1/2. Induction of immediate cytotoxicity did not account for the anti-neoplastic effects of NVP-AEW541, as shown by measurement of lactate dehydrogenase release. Moreover, additive anti-neoplastic effects were observed when NVP-AEW541 was combined with cytostatics such as doxorubicin or the 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A reductase inhibitor, fluvastatin. This is the first report on the induction of apoptosis and cell cycle arrest by the IGF-1R-TK inhibitor, NVP-AEW541, in NET cells. The inhibition of the IGF/IGFR system appears to be a promising novel approach for future treatment strategies of NET disease.