The autophagy inhibitor chloroquine, alone or in combination with mTOR inhibitors, displays anti-tumor effects in in vitro and in vivo lung carcinoid models

Adi Knigin, Shani Avniel-Polak, Gil Leibowitz, Kira Oleinikov, David J. Gross, Simona Grozinsky-Glasberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Scopus citations


    (1) Background: Neuroendocrine neoplasms of the lung (LNENs, lung carcinoids) are often diagnosed at an advanced stage when they are not surgically curable, and treatment options are limited. One of the approved options for treating inoperable tumors is everolimus—an mTOR inhibitor (mTORi). Activation of mTOR, among many other effects, inhibits autophagy, which is a cell survival mechanism in general, and in tumor cells in particular. Everolimus may paradoxically encourage cancer cell survival. In practice, the drug inhibits tumor development. Chloroquine (CQ) is a known antimalarial compound that inhibits autophagy. Our research is focused on the hypothesis that autophagy plays a key role in the development of tumor resistance to mTORi, and that the addition of autophagy inhibitors to mTORi exerts a synergistic effect on suppressing tumor cell proliferation. We have recently demonstrated that the combination of CQ with different mTORi increases their potency compared with mTORi alone in both in vitro and in vivo models of pancreatic NENs. In this study, we examined the effects of CQ and mTORi on in vitro and in vivo LNEN models. Aims: Testing the effects of CQ together with mTORi on cell proliferation, apoptosis, and autophagy in in vitro and in vivo LNEN models. (2) Methods: The NCI-H727 LNEN cells were treated with CQ ± mTORi. Cells’ viability and proliferation were measured using XTT and Ki-67 FACS staining. The effects of the treatments on the mTOR pathway and autophagy were examined using Western blotting. Cytotoxicity was measured using a cytotoxicity kit; apoptosis was measured by PI FACS staining and Western blotting. We further established an LNEN subcutaneous murine xenograft model and evaluated the effects of the drugs on tumor growth. (3) Results: CQ alone suppressed LNEN cells’ viability and proliferation and increased their cytotoxicity and apoptosis; these effects were augmented when CQ was added to an mTORi. We also showed the possible mechanisms for these results: on the one hand we could see a decrease in P62 levels and the absence of LC3-II (both inversely related to autophagy) following treatment with the mTORi, and on the other hand we could demonstrate an increase in their levels when CQ was added. The effect was less apparent in the murine xenograft model. (4) Conclusions: By inhibiting autophagy and inducing apoptosis, CQ suppresses tumor cell growth in LNENs. CQ potentiates mTORi effects, implying that further studies are needed in order to elucidate its possible role in tumor inhibition in patients with LNENs.

    Original languageAmerican English
    Article number6327
    Issue number24
    StatePublished - 16 Dec 2021

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


    • Autophagy
    • Chloroquine
    • Lung neuroendocrine tumor
    • MTOR inhibitors


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