Patient-derived glioblastoma cells show significant heterogeneity in treatment responses to the inhibitor-of-apoptosis-protein antagonist birinapant.

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Resistance to temozolomide (TMZ) greatly limits chemotherapeutic effectiveness in glioblastoma (GBM). Here we analysed the ability of the Inhibitor-of-apoptosis-protein (IAP) antagonist birinapant to enhance treatment responses to TMZ in both commercially available and patient-derived GBM cells.


Responses to TMZ and birinapant were analysed in a panel of commercial and patient-derived GBM cell lines using colorimetric viability assays, flow cytometry, morphological analysis and protein expression profiling of pro- and antiapoptotic proteins. Responses in vivo were analysed in an orthotopic xenograft GBM model.


Single-agent treatment experiments categorised GBM cells into TMZ-sensitive cells, birinapant-sensitive cells, and cells that were insensitive to either treatment. Combination treatment allowed sensitisation to therapy in only a subset of resistant GBM cells. Cell death analysis identified three principal response patterns: Type A cells that readily activated caspase-8 and cell death in response to TMZ while addition of birinapant further sensitised the cells to TMZ-induced cell death; Type B cells that readily activated caspase-8 and cell death in response to birinapant but did not show further sensitisation with TMZ; and Type C cells that showed no significant cell death or moderately enhanced cell death in the combined treatment paradigm. Furthermore, in vivo, a Type C patient-derived cell line that was TMZ-insensitive in vitro and showed a strong sensitivity to TMZ and TMZ plus birinapant treatments.


Our results demonstrate remarkable differences in responses of patient-derived GBM cells to birinapant single and combination treatments, and suggest that therapeutic responses in vivo may be greatly affected by the tumour microenvironment.