The COX-2 inhibitor NS398 selectively sensitizes hypoxic HeLa cells to ionising radiation by mechanisms both dependent and independent of COX-2

Shailendra Anoopkumar-Dukie, Tom Conere, Aileen Houston, Liam King, David Christie, Catherine McDermott, Ashley Allshire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


It is widely accepted that the hypoxic nature of solid tumors contribute to their resistance to radiation therapy. There is increasing evidence that cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) contributes to increased resistance of tumors to radiation therapy. Several studies demonstrate that combination of COX-2 selective inhibitors with radiation therapy selectively enhances radioresponsiveness of tumor cells. However, the majority of these studies utilised suprapharmacological concentrations under normoxic conditions only. Furthermore, the mechanism by which these agents act remain largely unclear. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine the impact of COX-2 selective inhibitors on both normoxic and hypoxic radiosensitivity in vitro and the mechanisms underlying this. Because of the close, reciprocal relationship between COX-2 and p53 we investigated their contribution to radioresistance. To achieve this we exposed HeLa, MCF-7 and MeWo cells to the COX-2 selective inhibitor, NS398 (10µM). NS398 (10µM) selectively sensitized hypoxic HeLa and MCF-7 but not MeWo cells to ionising radiation (5 Gy). Furthermore, while knockdown of COX-2 with siRNA did not affect either normoxic radiosensitivity in HeLa cells, the radiosensitisation observed with NS398 was lost suggesting both COX-2 dependent and independent mechanisms. We also show that ionising radiation at 5 Gy results in phosphorylation of p53 at serine 15, a key phosphorylation site for p53-mediated apoptosis, and that hypoxia attenuates this phosphorylation. Attenuated phosphorylation of p53 under hypoxic conditions may therefore contribute to hypoxic radioresistance. We also show that NS398 selectively phosphorylates p53 under hypoxic conditions following irradiation at 5 Gy. p53 phosphorylation could be an underlying mechanism by which this agent and other COX-2 inhibitors sensitize tumors to radiation therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106422
JournalJournal of Lipid Mediators and Cell Signalling
Early online date28 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jan 2020


Cite this