Identification of novel COX-2 / CYP19A1 axis involved in the mesothelioma pathogenesis opens new therapeutic opportunities

Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research 2021 August 17 [Link]

Barbara Nuvoli, Barbara Antoniani, Roberta Libener, Antonio Maconi, Andrea Sacconi, Mariantonia Carosi, Rossella Galati


Background: Based on previous studies highlighting that the induction of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and high prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) levels contribute to the pathogenesis of malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), and that aromatase (CYP19A1), an enzyme that plays a key role in estrogen biosynthesis, along with estradiol (E2) were expressed in MPM, this study aimed to investigate the possible interplay between COX-2 and CYP19A1 in the pathogenesis of mesothelioma, as well as the underlying mechanism.

Methods: The interaction between COX-2 and CYP19A1 was first investigated on different MPM lines upon PGE2, and COX-2 inhibitor (rofecoxib) treatment by western blot, RT-PCR. The key regulatory pathways involved in the COX-2 and CYP19A1 axis were further studied in MPM cells, after rofecoxib and exemestane (CYP19A1 inhibitor) treatment in monotherapy and in combination, by cell cycle distribution, western blot, and combination index analysis. To explore the role of COX-2/CYP19A1 axis in 3D preclinical models of MPM cells, we analyzed the effect of combination of COX-2 and CYP19A1 inhibitors in mesosphere formation. Immunohistochemical analysis of MPM mesosphere and specimens was utilized to evaluate the involvement of COX-2 on the CYP19A1 activity and the relationship between E2 and COX-2.

Results: PGE2 or rofecoxib treatment caused in MPM cells an increased or decreased, respectively, CYP19A1 expression at mRNA and protein levels. The effect of rofecoxib and exemestane combination in MPM cell proliferation was synergistic. Activation of caspase-3 and cleavage of PARP confirmed an apoptotic death for MPM cell lines. Increased expression levels of p53, p21, and p27, downregulation of cyclin D1 and inhibition of Akt activation (pAKT) were also found. The antagonistic effect of rofecoxib and exemestane combination found only in one cell line, was reverted by pretreatment with MK2206, a pAKT inhibitor, indicating pAKT as an actionable mediator in the COX-2-CYP19A1 axis. Reduction of size and sphere-forming efficiency in MPM spheres after treatment with both inhibitor and a decrease in COX-2 and E2 staining was found. Moreover, immunohistochemical analysis of 46 MPM samples showed a significant positive correlation between COX-2 and E2.

Conclusions: Collectively, the results highlighted a novel COX-2/CYP19A1 axis in the pathogenesis of MPM that can be pharmacologically targeted, consequently opening up new therapeutic options.