Prostate Cancer Cell Growth Linked to Androgens and Autophagy

CoverA team of researchers at the UH Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling (CNRCS) has published a new study examining the role of androgenic hormones in prostate cancer cell growth. The publication, “Androgens Promote Prostate Cancer Cell Growth through Induction of Autophagy,” will be featured on the February 2013 cover of the journal Molecular Endocrinology.

Led by Assistant Professor Dan Frigo, the team is focused on demystifying the role of androgens in prostate cancer. While it has long been known that androgens regulate both the normal prostate and prostatic diseases, it is still unclear how this occurs. Now, Frigo and his team have determined that androgens regulate cell metabolism and cell growth through increasing autophagy.

“Autophagy is one of the cell’s natural ways of detoxing by removing damaged or foreign macromolecules. Importantly, autophagy can also be used to help remodel cells in preparation for different events like cell growth,” says Frigo. “We found that when androgen-induced autophagy was inhibited the prostate cancer cell growth was significantly abolished.”

The Frigo lab is one of several within CNRCS concentrated on the role of nuclear receptors in cancer prevention and treatment. Of most interest to the team is the receptor dedicated to the androgen sex hormone, which is more commonly associated with male sexual development, including the prostate. The androgen molecules, such as testosterone, bind to and communicate with the receptors to turn on or off various signaling pathways. Frigo believes these pathways hold the potential for better cancer treatments.

“These findings highlight the potential of targeting under-explored metabolic pathways for the development of novel therapeutics,” says Frigo. “We look forward to further exploring androgenic signaling pathways with the ultimate goal of unlocking more effective and less harmful cancer treatment alternatives.”

CNRCS graduate students directly contributed to the project, working alongside postdoctoral fellows and collaborators. The research performed was supported by the National Institutes of Health and Texas Emerging Technology Fund.

Established in 2009, CNRCS is the focal point of the UH health initiative. Led by Dr. Jan-Åke Gustafsson, a world-renowned expert in the field of nuclear receptors, CNRCS researchers are involved in many aspects of nuclear receptor research, all focused on understanding the roles of these receptors in health and disease. CNRCS researchers are working toward the goal of finding new treatments for an array of significant diseases including cancer, diabetes and metabolic syndrome and degenerative neurologic diseases. Working from the Center's world-class laboratories, CNRCS researchers combine interdisciplinary research and dynamic collaboration with the Texas Medical Center and industry partners.