Triggering of Suicidal Erythrocyte Death by Exemestane


The steroidal aromatase inactivator exemestane blocks estrogen biosynthesis and is thus employed for the prevention and treatment of breast cancer. Exemestane is in part effective by stimulation of suicidal cell death or apoptosis. Side effects of exemestane treatment include anemia. At least in theory, exemestane induced anemia could be secondary to stimulation of suicidal erythrocyte death or eryptosis, characterized by cell shrinkage and cell membrane scrambling with phosphatidylserine translocation to the erythrocyte surface. Signaling involved in the stimulation of eryptosis includes increase of cytosolic Ca2+ activity ([Ca2+]i), oxidative stress, ceramide, several kinases and caspases. The present study explored, whether exemestane is able to trigger eryptosis and, if so, to shed some light on the signaling involved.


Flow cytometry was employed to quantify phosphatidylserine exposure at the cell surface from annexin-V-binding, cell volume from forward scatter, [Ca2+]i from Fluo3-fluorescence, reactive oxygen species (ROS) abundance from DCF fluorescence, and ceramide abundance utilizing specific antibodies.


A 48 hours exposure of human erythrocytes to exemestane (≥ 10 µg/ml) significantly increased the percentage of annexin-V-binding cells without significantly modifying forward scatter. Exemestane significantly increased Fluo3-fluorescence (10 and 20, but not 40 µg/ml), DCF fluorescence (40 µg/ml), and ceramide abundance (40 µg/ml). The effect of exemestane (40 µg/ml) on annexin-V-binding was significantly blunted by antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (1mM), but was not significantly modified by removal or increase of extracellular Ca2+, by p38 kinase inhibitor SB203580 (2 µM), casein kinase inhibitor D4476 (10 µM) and caspase inhibitor zVAD (10 µM).


Exemestane triggers phospholipid scrambling of the erythrocyte cell membrane, an effect paralleled by enhanced [Ca2+]i, oxidative stress, and increased ceramide abundance.

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S1196 Exemestane (FCE 24304) Exemestane (FCE24304, PNU155971) is an aromatase inhibitor, inhibits human placental and rat ovarian aromatase with IC50 of 30 nM and 40 nM, respectively.

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