Enforced expression of connexin (Cx) 32 gene, a member of gap junction gene family and a tumor suppressor gene in human renal cell carcinoma (RCC), enhanced vinblastine (VBL)-induced cytotoxicity on RCC cells, due to the suppression of multidrug resistance 1 (MDR1) gene product, P-glycoprotein (P-gp). Also, Cx32 gene in RCC is silenced by hypermethylation of CpG islands in a promoter region of the Cx gene. In this study, we investigated if a DNA demethylating agent, 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine (5-Aza) could enhance susceptibility of RCC cells (Caki-1) to VBL. We found that 5-Aza treatment up-regulated Cx32 in Caki-1 cells, and the induction of the Cx led to the suppression of P-gp through inhibition of Src and subsequent activation of c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK). Moreover, increased transcription activity of c-Jun by the JNK activation contributed to the down-regulation of MDR1, thus indicating a central role of JNK signalling to suppress P-gp level in 5-Aza-treated Caki-1 cells. Chemical sensitivity to VBL in Caki-1 cells was increased by 5-Aza pre-treatment, and this effect was abrogated by short interfering RNA (siRNA)-mediated knockdown of Cx32. Furthermore, co-treatment of 5-Aza or a P-gp inhibitor with VBL drastically enhanced JNK activation comparing to only VBL treatment in Caki-1 cells. These results suggest that the restoration of Cx32 by 5-Aza pre-treatment improves chemical tolerance on VBL in Caki-1 cells and that the JNK activation is a key factor to induce the effect.
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