Verteporfin selectively kills hypoxic glioma cells through iron-binding and increased production of reactive oxygen species

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  • University Hospital Birmingham


Gliomas are highly malignant brain tumours characterised by extensive areas of poor perfusion which subsequently leads to hypoxia and reduced survival. Therapies that address the hypoxic microenvironment are likely to significantly improve patient outcomes. Verteporfin, a benzoporphyrinlike drug, has been suggested to target the Yes-associated protein (YAP). Increased YAP expression and transcriptional activity has been proposed in other tumour types to promote malignant cell survival and thus YAP-inhibitor, verteporfin, may be predicted to impact glioma cell growth and viability. Due to the extensive hypoxic nature of gliomas, we investigated the effect of hypoxia on YAP expression and found
that YAP transcription is increased under these conditions. Treatment of both primary and immortalised glioblastoma cell lines with verteporfin resulted in a significant decrease in viability but strikingly only under hypoxic conditions (1% O2). We discovered that cell death occurs through a YAP-independent
mechanism, predominately involving binding of free iron and likely through redox cycling, contributes to production of reactive oxygen species. This results in disruption of normal cellular processes and death in cells already under oxidative stress – such as those in hypoxia. We suggest that through repurposing verteporfin, it represents a novel means of treating highly therapy-resistant, hypoxic cells in glioma.


Original languageEnglish
Article number14358
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sep 2018

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