Autophagy inhibition enhances vorinostat-induced apoptosis via ubiquitinated protein accumulation

Jennifer S. Carew, Ernest C. Medina, Juan A. Esquivel, Devalingam Mahalingam, Ronan Swords, Kevin Kelly, Hui Zhang, Peng Huang, Alain C. Mita, Monica M. Mita, Francis J. Giles, Steffan T. Nawrocki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

181 Scopus citations


Autophagy is an evolutionarily conserved cell survival pathway that enables cells to recoup ATP and other critical biosynthetic molecules during nutrient deprivation or exposure to hypoxia, which are hallmarks of the tumour microenvironment. Autophagy has been implicated as a potential mechanism of resistance to anticancer agents as it can promote cell survival in the face of stress induced by chemotherapeutic agents by breaking down cellular components to generate alternative sources of energy. Disruption of autophagy with chloroquine (CQ) induces the accumulation of ubiquitin-conjugated proteins in a manner similar to the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib (BZ). However, CQ-induced protein accumulation occurs at a slower rate and is localized to lysosomes in contrast to BZ, which stimulates rapid buildup of ubiquitinated proteins and aggresome formation in the cytosol. The histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor vorinostat (VOR) blocked BZ-induced aggresome formation, but promoted CQ-mediated ubiquitinated protein accumulation. Disruption of autophagy with CQ strongly enhanced VOR-mediated apoptosis in colon cancer cells. Accordingly, knockdown of the essential autophagy gene Atg7 also sensitized cells to VOR-induced apoptosis. Knockdown of HDAC6 greatly enhanced BZ-induced apoptosis, but only marginally sensitized cells to CQ. Subsequent studies determined that the CQ/VOR combination promoted a large increase in superoxide generation that was required for ubiquitinated protein accumulation and cell death. Finally, treatment with the CQ/VOR combination significantly reduced tumour burden and induced apoptosis in a colon cancer xenograft model. Collectively, our results establish that inhibition of autophagy with CQ induces ubiquitinated protein accumulation and VOR potentiates CQ-mediated aggregate formation, superoxide generation and apoptosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2448-2459
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of cellular and molecular medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggresome
  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy
  • Bortezomib
  • Cancer
  • Chloroquine
  • Histone deacetylase
  • Proteasome
  • Superoxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Cell Biology


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