Background: Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a common and lethal cancer of the central nervous system. This cancer is difficult to treat because most anticancer therapeutics do not readily penetrate into the brain due to the tight control at the cerebrovascular barrier. Numerous studies have suggested that dopamine D2 receptor (D2R) antagonists, such as first generation antipsychotics, may have anticancer efficacy in vivo and in vitro. The role of the D2R itself in the anticancer effects is unclear, but there is evidence suggesting that D2R activation promotes stem-like and spheroid forming behaviors in GBM. Objectives: We aimed to observe the role of the dopamine D2R and its modulators (at selective concentrations) in spheroid formation and stemness of GBM cell line, U87MG, to clarify the validity of the D2R as a therapeutic target for cancer therapy. Methods: Spheroid formation assays and Western blotting of the glioblastoma cell line, U87MG, were used to observe responses to treatment with the D2R agonists sumanirole, ropinirole, and 4-propyl-9-hydroxynaphthoxazine (PHNO); and the D2R antagonists thioridazine, pimozide, haloperidol, and remoxipride. Extreme limiting dilution analysis was done to determine the impact of sumanirole and remoxipride treatment on sphere-forming cell frequency. Proliferation was also measured by crystal violet staining. Stable lentiviral transduction of DRD2 or shDRD2 was used to validate the role of the D2R in assay behaviors. Results: D2R antagonists thioridazine, pimozide, haloperidol, and remoxipride decrease spheroid formation behaviors at a selective 100 nmol/L concentration, while D2R agonists PHNO, sumanirole, and ropinirole increase the formation of spheroids. Similarly, 100 nmol/L remoxipride decreased sphere-forming cell frequency. These results were recapitulated with genetic overexpression and knockdown of the D2R, and combination experiments indicate that the D2R is required for the effects of the pharmacological modulators. Furthermore, spheroid proliferation and invasive capacity increased under treatment with 100 nmol/L sumanirole and decreased under treatment with 100 nmol/L thioridazine. Expression levels of the stemness markers Nestin and Sox2, as well as those of differentiation marker glial fibrillary acidic protein, were not altered by 100 nmol/L thioridazine or sumanirole for 72 h or continuous treatment with these compounds for 7 days during a spheroid formation assay. Conclusions: Signaling activity of the dopamine D2R may be involved in the spheroid formation phenotype in the context of the U87MG cell line. However, this modulation may not be due to alterations in stemness marker expression, but due to other factors that may contribute to spheroid formation, such as cell-cell adhesion or EGFR signaling.
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