Metabolic reprogramming of tumour cells sustains cancer progression. Similar to other cancer cells, glioblastoma cells exhibit an increased glycolytic flow, which encourages the use of antiglycolytics as an effective complementary therapy. We used the antiglycolytic 3-bromopyruvate (3BP) as a metabolic modifier to treat U118 glioblastoma cells and investigated the toxic effects and the conditions to increase drug effectiveness at the lowest concentration. Cellular vitality was not affected by 3BP concentrations lower than 40 μM, although p-Akt dephosphorylation, p53 degradation, and ATP reduction occurred already at 30 μM 3BP. ROS generated in mitochondria were enhanced at 30 μM 3BP, possibly by unbalancing their generation and their disposal because of glutathione peroxidase inhibition. ROS triggered JNK and ERK phosphorylation, and cyt c release outside mitochondria, not accompanied by caspases-9 and -3 activation, probably due to 3BP-dependent alkylation of cysteine residues at caspase-9 catalytic site. To explore the possibility of sensitizing cells to 3BP treatment, we exploited 3BP effects on mitochondria by using 30 μM 3BP in association with antimycin A or menadione concentrations that in themselves exhibit poor toxicity. 3BP effect on cyt c release and cell vitality loss was potentiated due the greater oxidative stress induced by antimycin or menadione association with 3BP, supporting a preeminent role of mitochondrial ROS in 3BP toxicity. Indeed, the scavenger of mitochondrial superoxide MitoTEMPO counteracted 3BP-induced cyt c release and weakened the potentiating effect of 3BP/antimycin association. In conclusion, the biochemical mechanisms leading U118 glioblastoma cells to viability loss following 3BP treatment rely on mitochondrial ROS-dependent pathways. Their potentiation at low 3BP concentrations is consistent with the goal to minimize the toxic effect of the drug towards non-cancer cells.
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