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Acid ceramidase and its inhibitors: a drug target and a new class of drugs for killing glioblastoma cancer stem cells with high efficiency. Oncotarget 2017 Dec 22;8(68):112662-112674 PMID: 29348854 PMCID: PMC5762539

Pubmed ID





Glioblastoma remains the most common, malignant primary cancer of the central nervous system with a low life expectancy and an overall survival of less than 1.5 years. The treatment options are limited and there is no cure. Moreover, almost all patients develop recurrent tumors, which typically are more aggressive. Therapeutically resistant glioblastoma or glioblastoma stem-like cells (GSCs) are hypothesized to cause this inevitable recurrence. Identifying prognostic biomarkers of glioblastoma will potentially advance knowledge about glioblastoma tumorigenesis and enable discovery of more effective therapies. Proteomic analysis of more than 600 glioblastoma-specific proteins revealed, for the first time, that expression of acid ceramidase (ASAH1) is associated with poor glioblastoma survival. CD133+ GSCs express significantly higher ASAH1 compared to CD133- GSCs and serum-cultured glioblastoma cell lines, such as U87MG. These findings implicate ASAH1 as a plausible independent prognostic marker, providing a target for a therapy tailored toward GSCs. We further demonstrate that ASAH1 inhibition increases cellular ceramide level and induces apoptosis. Strikingly, U87MG cells, and three different patient-derived glioblastoma stem-like cancer cell lines were efficiently killed, through apoptosis, by three different known ASAH1 inhibitors with IC50's ranging from 11-104 μM. In comparison, the standard glioblastoma chemotherapy agent, temozolomide, had minimal GSC-targeted effects at comparable or even higher concentrations (IC50 > 750 μM against GSCs). ASAH1 is identified as a glioblastoma drug target, and ASAH1 inhibitors, such as carmofur, are shown to be highly effective and to specifically target glioblastoma GSCs. Carmofur is an ASAH1 inhibitor that crosses the blood-brain barrier, a major bottleneck in glioblastoma treatment. It has been approved in Japan since 1981 for colorectal cancer therapy. Therefore, it is poised for repurposing and translation to glioblastoma clinical trials.

Author List

Doan NB, Alhajala H, Al-Gizawiy MM, Mueller WM, Rand SD, Connelly JM, Cochran EJ, Chitambar CR, Clark P, Kuo J, Schmainda KM, Mirza SP


Christopher R. Chitambar MD Professor in the Medicine department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Elizabeth J. Cochran MD Professor in the Pathology department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Wade M. Mueller MD Professor in the Neurosurgery department at Medical College of Wisconsin
Kathleen M. Schmainda PhD Professor in the Biophysics department at Medical College of Wisconsin

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