We have previously shown that the anti-malarial compound Quinacrine (QC) inhibits ovarian cancer (OC) growth by modulating autophagy. In the present study we extended these studies to identify the molecular pathways regulated by QC to promote apoptosis independent of p53 status in OC. QC exhibited strong anti-cancer properties in OC cell lines in contrast to other anti-malarial autophagy inhibiting drugs. QC treatment selectively upregulated cell cycle inhibitor p21, and downregulated F box protein Skp2 and p62/SQSTM1 expression independent of p53 status. Genetic downregulation of key autophagy protein ATG5 abolished QC-mediated effects on both cell cycle protein p21/Skp2 as well as autophagic cargo protein p62. Furthermore, genetic silencing of p62/SQSTM1 resulted in increased sensitivity to QC-mediated apoptosis, downregulated Skp2 mRNA and increased accumulation of p21 expression. Likewise, genetic knockdown of Skp2 resulted in the upregulation of p21 and p27 and increased sensitivity of OC cells to QC treatment. In contrast, transient overexpression of exogenous p62-HA plasmid rescued the QC-mediated Skp2 downregulation indicating the positive regulation of Skp2 by p62. Collectively, these data indicate that QC-mediated effects on cell cycle proteins p21/Skp2is autophagy-dependent and p53-independent in high grade serious OC cells.
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