PERK/eIF2 alpha signaling protects therapy resistant hypoxic cells through induction of glutathione synthesis and protection against ROS

Kasper M. Rouschop*, Ludwig J. Dubois, Tom G. Keulers, Twan van den Beucken, Philippe Lambin, Johan Bussink, Albert J. van der Kogel, Marianne Koritzinsky, Bradly G. Wouters

*Corresponding author for this work

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Hypoxia is a common feature of tumors and an important contributor to malignancy and treatment resistance. The ability of tumor cells to survive hypoxic stress is mediated in part by hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF)-dependent transcriptional responses. More severe hypoxia activates endoplasmatic reticulum stress responses, including the double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase (PKR)-like endoplasmic reticulum kinase (PERK)/eukaryotic initiation factor 2 alpha (eIF2 alpha)-dependent arm of the unfolded protein response (UPR). Although several studies implicate important roles for HIF and UPR in adaption to hypoxia, their importance for hypoxic cells responsible for therapy resistance in tumors is unknown. By using isogenic models, we find that HIF and eIF2 alpha signaling contribute to the survival of hypoxic cells in vitro and in vivo. However, the eIF2 alpha-dependent arm of the UPR is uniquely required for the survival of a subset of hypoxic cells that determine tumor radioresistance. We demonstrate that eIF2 alpha signaling induces uptake of cysteine, glutathione synthesis, and protection against reactive oxygen species produced during periods of cycling hypoxia. Together these data imply that eIF2 alpha signaling is a critical contributor to the tolerance of therapy-resistant cells that arise as a consequence of transient changes in oxygenation in solid tumors and thus a therapeutic target in curative treatments for solid cancers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4622-4627
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2013


  • growth delay
  • irradiation
  • acute hypoxia

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