You are here

GPR68-ATF4 signaling is a novel prosurvival pathway in glioblastoma activated by acidic extracellular microenvironment

Williams CH, Neitzel LR, Cornell J, Rea S, Mills I, Silver MS, Ahmad JD, Birukov KG, Birukova A, Brem H, Tyler B, Bar EE, Hong CC
Exp Hematol Oncol. 2024 Jan 31;13(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s40164-023-00468-1
Background: Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) stands as a formidable challenge in oncology because of its aggressive nature and severely limited treatment options. Despite decades of research, the survival rates for GBM remain effectively stagnant. A defining hallmark of GBM is a highly acidic tumor microenvironment, which is thought to activate pro-tumorigenic pathways. This acidification is the result of altered tumor metabolism favoring aerobic glycolysis, a phenomenon known as the Warburg effect. Low extracellular pH confers radioresistant tumors to glial cells. Notably GPR68, an acid sensing GPCR, is upregulated in radioresistant GBM. Usage of Lorazepam, which has off target agonism of GPR68, is linked to worse clinical outcomes for a variety of cancers. However, the role of tumor microenvironment acidification in GPR68 activation has not been assessed in cancer. Here we interrogate the role of GPR68 specifically in GBM cells using a novel highly specific small molecule inhibitor of GPR68 named Ogremorphin (OGM) to induce the iron mediated cell death pathway: ferroptosis. Method: OGM was identified in a non-biased zebrafish embryonic development screen and validated with Morpholino and CRISPR based approaches. Next, A GPI-anchored pH reporter, pHluorin2, was stably expressed in U87 glioblastoma cells to probe extracellular acidification. Cell survival assays, via nuclei counting and cell titer glo, were used to demonstrate sensitivity to GPR68 inhibition in twelve immortalized and PDX GBM lines. To determine GPR68 inhibition's mechanism of cell death we use DAVID pathway analysis of RNAseq. Our major indication, ferroptosis, was then confirmed by western blotting and qRT-PCR of reporter genes including TFRC. This finding was further validated by transmission electron microscopy and liperfluo staining to assess lipid peroxidation. Lastly, we use siRNA and CRISPRi to demonstrate the critical role of ATF4 suppression via GPR68 for GBM survival. Results: We used a pHLourin2 probe to demonstrate how glioblastoma cells acidify their microenvironment to activate the commonly over expressed acid sensing GPCR, GPR68. Using our small molecule inhibitor OGM and genetic means, we show that blocking GPR68 signaling results in robust cell death in all thirteen glioblastoma cell lines tested, irrespective of genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity, or resistance to the mainstay GBM chemotherapeutic temozolomide. We use U87 and U138 glioblastoma cell lines to show how selective induction of ferroptosis occurs in an ATF4-dependent manner. Importantly, OGM was not-acutely toxic to zebrafish and its inhibitory effects were found to spare non-malignant neural cells. Conclusion: These results indicate GPR68 emerges as a critical sensor for an autocrine pro-tumorigenic signaling cascade triggered by extracellular acidification in glioblastoma cells. In this context, GPR68 suppresses ATF4, inhibition of GPR68 increases expression of ATF4 which leads to ferroptotic cell death. These findings provide a promising therapeutic approach to selectively induce ferroptosis in glioblastoma cells while sparing healthy neural tissue.
Not Epub
Organism or Cell Type: 
Delivery Method: