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Radiation treatment failure or relapse after initial response to chemotherapy presents significant clinical challenges in cancer patients. Escape from initial courses of treatment can involve reactivation of embryonic developmental stages, with the formation of polynuclear giant cancer cells (PGCCs). This strategy of dedifferentiation can insulate cancer cells from a variety of treatments and allows a residual subpopulation to reestablish tumors after treatment. Using radiation or docetaxel chemotherapy, we generated PGCCs from prostate cancer cells. Here, we show that expression of acid ceramidase (ASAH1), an enzyme in the sphingolipid pathway linked to therapy resistance and poor outcomes, is elevated in PGCCs. Targeting ASAH1 with shRNA or treatment with the ASAH1 inhibitor, LCL-521, did not impair the formation of PGCCs, but prevented the formation of PGCC progeny that arise through an asymmetric cell division called neosis. Similar results were obtained in lung cancer cells that had been exposed to radiation or cisplatin chemotherapy as stressors. In summary, our data suggest that endoreplication occurs independent of ASAH1 while neosis is ASAH1-dependent in both prostate and lung cancer cells. Because ASAH1 knockout is embryonic lethal but not deleterious to adult animals, targeting this enzyme has the potential to be highly specific to cells undergoing the dedifferentiation process to escape cancer treatments. Pharmacological inhibition of ASAH1 is a potentially powerful strategy to eliminate cells that could otherwise serve as seed populations for recurrence. Copyright © 2019 White-Gilbertson et al.


Shai White-Gilbertson, Ping Lu, James S Norris, Christina Voelkel-Johnson. Genetic and pharmacological inhibition of acid ceramidase prevents asymmetric cell division by neosis. Journal of lipid research. 2019 Jul;60(7):1225-1235

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PMID: 30988134

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