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Role of Acid Sphingomyelinase and Ceramide in Mechano-Acoustic Enhancement of Tumor Radiation Responses

A El Kaffas, A Al-Mahrouki, A Hashim, N Law, A Giles, G J Czarnota
Journal of the National Cancer Institute2018
Background: High-dose radiotherapy (>8-10 Gy) causes rapid endothelial cell death via acid sphingomyelinase (ASMase)-induced ceramide production, resulting in biologically significant enhancement of tumor responses. To further augment or solicit similar effects at low radiation doses, we used genetic and chemical approaches to evaluate mechano-acoustic activation of the ASMase-ceramide pathway by ultrasound-stimulated microbubbles (USMB). Methods: Experiments were carried out in wild-type and acid sphingomyelinase (asmase) knockout mice implanted with fibrosarcoma xenografts. A cohort of wild-type mice received the ASMase-ceramide pathway inhibitor sphingosine-1-phosphate (S1P). Mice were treated with varying radiation doses, with or without a priori USMB exposure at different microbubble concentrations. Treatment response was assessed with quantitative 3D Doppler ultrasound and immunohistochemistry at baseline, and at three, 24, and 72 hours after treatment, with three to five mice per treatment group at each time point. All statistical tests were two-sided. Results: Results confirmed an interaction between USMB and ionizing radiation at 24 hours (P < .001), with a decrease in tumor perfusion of up to 46.5% by three hours following radiation and USMB. This peaked at 24 hours, persisting for up to 72 hours, and was accompanied by extensive tumor cell death. In contrast, statistically nonsignificant and minimal tumor responses were noted in S1P-treated and asmase knockout mice for all treatments. Conclusions: This work is the first to confirm the involvement of the ASMase-ceramide pathway in mechanotransductive vascular targeting using USMB. Results also confirm that an acute vascular effect is driving this form of enhanced radiation response, and that it can be elicited at low radiation doses (<8-10 Gy) by a priori USMB exposure.
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