Flavonoids Restore Platinum Drug Sensitivity to Ovarian Carcinoma Cells in a Phospho-ERK1/2-Dependent Fashion

Ovarian cancer (OC) is the second most common type of gynecological malignancy; it has poor survival rates and is frequently (>75%) diagnosed at an advanced stage. Platinum-based chemotherapy, with, e.g., carboplatin, is the standard of care for OC, but toxicity and acquired resistance to therapy have proven challenging. Despite advances in OC diagnosis and treatment, approximately 85% of patients will experience relapse, mainly due to chemoresistance. The latter is attributed to alterations in the cancer cells and is also mediated by tumor microenvironment (TME). Recently, we reported the synthesis of a platinum (IV) prodrug that exhibits equal potency toward platinum-sensitive and resistant OC cell lines. Here, we investigated the effect of TME on platinum sensitivity. Co-culture of OC cells with murine or human mesenchymal stem cells (MS-5 and HS-5, respectively) rendered them resistant to chemotherapeutic agents, including platinum, paclitaxel and colchicine. Platinum resistance was also conferred by co-culture with differentiated murine adipocyte progenitor cells. Exposure of OC cells to chemotherapeutic agents resulted in activation of phospho-ERK1/2. Co-culture with MS-5, which conferred drug resistance, was accompanied by blockage of phospho-ERK1/2 activation. The flavonoids fisetin and quercetin were active in restoring ERK phosphorylation, as well as sensitivity to platinum compounds. Exposure of OC cells to cobimetinib-a MEK1 inhibitor that also inhibits extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) phosphorylation-which resulted in reduced sensitivity to the platinum compound. This suggests that ERK activity is involved in mediating the function of flavonoids in restoring platinum sensitivity to OC co-cultured with cellular components of the TME. Our data show the potential of combining flavonoids with standard therapy to restore drug sensitivity to OC cells and overcome TME-mediated platinum drug resistance.

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