Recent studies have suggested that the lipid-lowering agent simvastatin holds great promise as a cancer therapeutic; it inhibits the growth of multiple tumors, including triple-negative breast cancer. Doxorubicin- and simvastatin-induced cytotoxicity has been associated with the modulation of Ca2+ signaling, but the underlying mechanisms remain incompletely understood. Here we identify how Ca2+ signaling regulates the breast tumor cell response to doxorubicin and simvastatin. These two drugs inhibit cell survival while increasing apoptosis in two human breast cancer cell lines and five primary breast tumor specimens through the modulation of Ca2+ signaling. Signal transduction and functional studies revealed that both simvastatin and doxorubicin trigger persistent cytosolic Ca2+ release, thereby stimulating the proapoptotic BIM pathway and mitochondrial Ca2+ overload, which are responsible for metabolic dysfunction and apoptosis induction. Simvastatin and doxorubicin suppress the prosurvival ERK1/2 pathway in a Ca2+-independent and Ca2+-dependent manner, respectively. In addition, reduction of the Ca2+ signal by chelation or pharmacological inhibition significantly prevents drug-mediated anticancer signaling. Unexpectedly, a scratch-wound assay indicated that these two drugs induce rapid cell migration, while inhibiting cell invasion and colony formation in a Ca2+-dependent manner. Further, the in vivo data for MDA-MB-231 xenografts demonstrate that upon chelation of Ca2+, the ability of both drugs to reduce the tumor burden was significantly reduced via caspase-3 deactivation. Our results establish a calcium-based mechanism as crucial for executing the cell death process triggered by simvastatin and doxorubicin, and suggest that combining simvastatin with doxorubicin may be an effective regimen for the treatment of breast cancer.
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This work was supported by grants from the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, and the Association Vie et Espoir. We thank members of the LIONS CLUB Les Andelys association for their support with equipment.