Research Papers:

β-escin selectively targets the glioblastoma-initiating cell population and reduces cell viability

Elizabeth Harford-Wright, Nicolas Bidère and Julie Gavard _

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Oncotarget. 2016; 7:66865-66879. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.11784

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Elizabeth Harford-Wright1,2, Nicolas Bidère1,2, Julie Gavard1,2

1CRCINA, INSERM, CNRS, Université d'Angers, Université de Nantes, Nantes, F-44000, France

2Team SOAP, "Signaling in Oncogenesis, Angiogenesis, and Permeability", Nantes, F-44000, France

Correspondence to:

Julie Gavard, email: [email protected]

Keywords: glioblastoma-initiating cells, chemical screen, apoptosis, self-renewal, temozolomide

Received: May 02, 2016     Accepted: July 10, 2016     Published: September 01, 2016


Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a highly aggressive tumour of the central nervous system and is associated with an extremely poor prognosis. Within GBM exists a subpopulation of cells, glioblastoma-initiating cells (GIC), which possess the characteristics of progenitor cells, have the ability to initiate tumour growth and resist to current treatment strategies. We aimed at identifying novel specific inhibitors of GIC expansion through use of a large-scale chemical screen of approved small molecules. Here, we report the identification of the natural compound β-escin as a selective inhibitor of GIC viability. Indeed, β-escin was significantly cytotoxic in nine patient-derived GIC, whilst exhibiting no substantial effect on the other human cancer or control cell lines tested. In addition, β-escin was more effective at reducing GIC growth than current clinically used cytotoxic agents. We further show that β-escin triggers caspase-dependent cell death combined with a loss of stemness properties. However, blocking apoptosis could not rescue the β-escin-induced reduction in sphere formation or stemness marker activity, indicating that β-escin directly modifies the stem identity of GIC, independent of the induction of cell death. Thus, this study has repositioned β-escin as a promising potential candidate to selectively target the aggressive population of initiating cells within GBM.

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