The interplay between a non-lethal autophagic response and apoptotic cell death is still a matter of debate in cancer cell biology. In the present study performed on human melanoma cells, we investigate the role of basal or stimulated autophagy in cisplatin-induced cytotoxicity, as well as the contribution of cisplatin-induced activation of caspases 3/7 and conventional calpains. The results show that, while down-regulating Beclin-1, Atg14 and LC3-II, cisplatin treatment inhibits the basal autophagic response, impairing a physiological pro-survival response. Consistently, exogenously stimulated autophagy, obtained with trehalose or calpains inhibitors (MDL-28170 and calpeptin), protects from cisplatin-induced apoptosis, and such a protection is reverted by inhibiting autophagy with 3-methyladenine or ATG5 silencing. In addition, during trehalose-stimulated autophagy, the cisplatin-induced activation of calpains is abrogated, suggesting the existence of a feedback loop between the autophagic process and calpains. On the whole, our results demonstrate that in human melanoma cells autophagy may function as a beneficial stress response, hindered by cisplatin-induced death mechanisms. In a therapeutic perspective, these findings suggest that the efficacy of cisplatin-based polychemotherapies for melanoma could be potentiated by inhibitors of autophagy.
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