J Cancer 2021; 12(21):6310-6319. doi:10.7150/jca.61299 This issue

Research Paper

Metformin and arsenic trioxide synergize to trigger Parkin/pink1-dependent mitophagic cell death in human cervical cancer HeLa cells

Jing Chen1#, Cunmin Zhou2#, Juan Yi1, Jingjing Sun2, Bei Xie1, Zhewen Zhang1, Qunfeng Wang1, Gang Chen1, Suya Jin1, Jinxia Hou1, Miao Qin1, Lina Wang1, Hulai Wei1✉

1. Key Laboratory of Preclinical Study for New Drugs of Gansu Province, School of Basic Medical Sciences, Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu, China.
2. The first hospital of Lanzhou University, Lanzhou, Gansu, China.
# Contributed equally

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). See http://ivyspring.com/terms for full terms and conditions.
Chen J, Zhou C, Yi J, Sun J, Xie B, Zhang Z, Wang Q, Chen G, Jin S, Hou J, Qin M, Wang L, Wei H. Metformin and arsenic trioxide synergize to trigger Parkin/pink1-dependent mitophagic cell death in human cervical cancer HeLa cells. J Cancer 2021; 12(21):6310-6319. doi:10.7150/jca.61299. Available from https://www.jcancer.org/v12p6310.htm

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Graphic abstract

Mitochondria are involved in various biological processes including intracellular homeostasis, proliferation, senescence, and death, and mitochondrial mitophagy is closely related to the development and regression of malignant tumors. Recent studies confirmed that the hypoglycemic drug metformin (Met) exerted various antitumor effects, protected neural cells, and improved immunity, while arsenic trioxide (ATO) is an effective chemotherapeutic agent for the clinical treatment of leukemia and various solid tumors. However, the possible combined antitumor effects of Met and ATO and their cellular molecular mechanisms are unclear. We investigated the role of Parkin-mediated mitochondrial mitophagy in the anti-tumor mechanism of Met and ATO by studying the effects of Met and/or ATO on the proliferation and apoptosis of cervical cancer HeLa cells. Both Met and ATO effectively inhibited the proliferative activity of HeLa cells and induced apoptosis by activating Bax and inhibiting Bcl-2. Met and ATO treatment alone or in combination stimulated mitophagosome accumulation in HeLa cells, increased the conversion of microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 (LC3)-I to LC3-II, and decreased levels of the mitophagic lysosomal substrate protein P62. The mitochondrial membrane potential of HeLa cells also decreased, accompanied by activation of the mitochondrial translocase TOM system and the Pink1/Parkin signaling pathway. These results suggested that Met and/or ATO could induce mitophagy in HeLa cells via the Pink1/Parkin signaling pathway, leading to mitophagic apoptosis and inhibition of tumor cell proliferation. The combination of Met and ATO thus has enhanced antitumor effects, suggesting that this combination has potential clinical applications for the treatment of cervical cancer and other tumors.

Keywords: Metformin, Arsenic Trioxide, Mitophagy, Pink1/Parkin, HeLa