R E S E A R C H Open Access
Supraphysiological androgen levels induce
cellular senescence in human prostate cancer
cells through the Src-Akt pathway
, Wiebke Hessenkemper
, Sophie Bartsch
, Marina Manvelyan
, Soeren S Huettner
, Thomas Liehr
, Susan Foller
, Iver Petersen
, Marc-Oliver Grimm
and Aria Baniahmad
Background: Prostate cancer (PCa) is the second leading cause of cancer mortality of men in Western countries. The
androgen receptor (AR) and AR-agonists (androgens) are required for the development and progression of the normal
prostate as well as PCa. However, it is discussed that in addition to their tumor promoting activity, androgens may also
exhibit tumor suppressive effects. A biphasic growth response to androgens a growth-promoting and -inhibition has
been observed that suggests that administration of supraphysiological androgen levels mediates growth reduction in
AR expressing PCa cells.
Methods: Detection of senescence markers, three dimensional interphase fluorescence in situ hybridization (3D-iFISH),
qRT-PCR, Western blotting, detection of GFP fusions, prostatectomy, ex vivo culturing.
Results: Here, we describe that supraphysiological levels of androgens induce cell cycle arrest and markers of cellular
senescence in human PCa cells, which may in part explain the growth inhibitory role of androgens. The expression of
the senescence associated beta galactosidase is observed by treatment with the natural androgen DHT or the less
metabolized synthetic androgen R1881. The induction of senescence marker was detected in human PCa cell lines as
well as in human primary PCa tissue derived from prostatectomy treated ex vivo. Using interphase FISH (iFISH) suggests
that the androgen-induced cellular senescence is associated with localizing the genomic E2F1 locus to senescence
associated heterochromatic foci. Analysis of different signaling pathways in LNCaP cells suggest that the p16-Rb-E2F1
pathway is essential for the induction of cellular senescence since treatment with siRNA directed against p16 reduces the
level of androgen-induced cellular senescence. Based on the rapid induction of androgen-mediated cellular senescence
we identified the Src-PI3K-Akt-signaling pathway and autophagy being in part involved in androgen regulation.
Conclusions: Taken together, our data suggest that AR-agonists at supraphysiological levels mediate induction of cellular
senescence in human PCa cells, which may have a protective anti-cancer role. These results provide also new insights for
understanding androgen-mediated regulation of PCa growth.
Keywords: Nuclear receptor, Non-genomic signaling, Tumor suppression, Cellular senescence, Autophagy
Prostate Cancer (PCa) is an important age-related dis-
eases being the most common cancer malignancy and
the second leading cause of cancer mortality in men in
western countries . Initially, PCa progression is andro-
gen receptor (AR)- and androgen-dependent. Unfortu-
nately, after 12–18 months of hormone ablation therapy
the advanced PCa growth is becoming androgen-
independent but remains dependent on AR , which
indicates the importance of developing new therapeutic
strategies. Interestingly, it is known that with increased
age the androgen level is decreasing, which seems to be
timely associated with increased risk of PCa [3,4]. It has
been suggested that androgens first have a protective
role for prostate proliferation [4-8]. In line with this,
Niu et al.  revealed using a mouse model that the
functional AR exhibits both proliferation promoting as
* Correspondence: email@example.com
Institute of Human Genetics, Jena University Hospital, 07740 Jena, Germany
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
© 2014 Roediger et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain
Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article,
unless otherwise stated.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214
well as tumor suppressive functions. However androgen-
mediated growth inhibition is less examined and not well
understood, and thus it is postulated that androgen ad-
ministration could reduce PCa growth.
Cellular senescence is an irreversible cell cycle arrest me-
diated through exogenous and endogenous stimuli, which
cause changes in cell morphology and gene expression pro-
files [10,11]. New insights reveal that cellular senescence
occurs during embryogenesis as a normal programmed
mechanism that plays instructive roles in development and
controls patterning [12,13]. It is suggested that this cellular
program may be reactivated during early premalignant car-
cinogenesis as a protective cellular mechanism to prevent
malignant cancer. Therefore, the proliferation arrest of sen-
escent cells has been indicated to act tumor suppressive. In
malignant cells, however, this program of cell cycle arrest
by cellular senescence seems to be inhibited . Hence,
the process of cellular senescence represents a natural
defense mechanism against tumor progression and thus the
exogenous re-activation and induction of cellular senes-
cence is a potential target for cancer therapy .
Tumorsuppressorproteinsand their signaling pathways
such as the p14-p53-p21 and p16-pRb-E2F1 pathways are
involved in the induction of cellular senescence [16-19].
Further, autophagy, a highly conserved, lysosome-mediated
process that degrades cytoplasmic components, seems to
be linked to the initiating of cellular senescence [20,21].
Cellular senescence is also associated with changes in the
nuclear chromatin structure to generate senescence-
associated heterochromatic foci (SAHF) as another marker
for cellular senescence .
The AR belongs to the nuclear hormone receptor super-
family. Besides its function as a ligand-controlled tran-
scription factor the AR is also to induce ligand-mediated
so called rapid signaling in the cytoplasm such as the
MAP-kinase and the Src tyrosine kinase signaling [23-27].
Here, our data suggest that androgens induce cellular
senescence in a concentration-dependent manner in hu-
man PCa cell lines, which may explain the growth inhibi-
tory role of androgens. This is confirmed by ex vivo studies
with primary human PCa biopsy material, where androgens
induce cellular senescence in malignant human PCa tissue.
Furthermore, we observed that besides the tumor suppres-
sors p16, pRb also Src - Akt, mediate the androgen-
mediated induction of cellular senescence. The data provide
molecular insights into androgen-mediated cellular senes-
cence representing important principles to understand the
role of AR-signaling as a target of PCa therapy.
Results & discussion
AR-agonists induce cellular senescence in a
concentration-dependent manner in PCa cell lines
AR-agonists are known to promote prostate development
as well as PCa growth . However, Sonnenschein et al.
 described a concentration-dependent proliferation ar-
rest in PCa cells after treatment with the natural agonist
DHT or the synthetic R1881 at supraphysiological levels.
Notably, the underlying cellular and molecular mecha-
nisms are still unclear. Therefore, we hypothesized that
androgens may induce a pathway of cellular senescence.
Androgen-dependent growing LNCaP cells were
treated with DHT and R1881 for 3 days and through the
measurement of SA β-Gal activity the induction of cellu-
lar senescence was analyzed. Interestingly, we observed
that both the natural and the synthetic androgen induce
cellular senescence in a concentration-dependent man-
ner. Administration of 1 nM R1881 or 1 nM DHT indi-
cate a strong induction of SA β-Gal activity, in contrast,
lower androgen levels show the basal level of cellular
senescence similar to the untreated or the solvent con-
trol (Figure 1A, B). Higher concentrations of R1881 result
in a higher percentage of cells expressing this marker
compared to the natural compound DHT indicating a
higher potency to induce cellular senescence. An explan-
ation for this might be that in addition to a higher affinity
for the AR, R1881 as a synthetic androgen is not metabo-
lized as rapidly as the natural DHT . Therefore, R1881
was used for further studies. Based on these results we de-
fined here 1nM R1881 as supraphysiological androgen
level (SAL) and 1pM R1881 concentration as low andro-
gen level (LAL). Longer treatment periods did not increase
the level of SA β-Gal activity indicating that 3 days of
treatment with SAL is sufficient to induce cellular senes-
cence (Additional file 1: Figure S1).
To confirm the androgen-induced cellular senescence,
we examined a further marker, the formation of
senescence-associated heterochromatic foci (SAHF).
DAPI staining of the treated cells revealed that SAL
treatment induces an accumulation of heterochromatin
in LNCaP cells (Figure 1C). Similar results were ob-
tained in androgen-independent growing C4-2 cells
where androgen treatment also induced both the SA β-
Gal activity and the formation of SAHFs (Figure 1D, E).
Moreover, using PC3-AR cells expressing the human AR
we observed induction of cellular senescence under SAL
but not LAL conditions (Additional file 2: Figure S2A),
whereas we did not observe an androgen-induced cellular
senescence using non-AR expressing PC3 cells (Additional
file 2: Figure S2B). This confirms that androgen-induced
cellular senescence is AR-dependent PCa cell lines.
Growth analyses were performed to analyze the rela-
tion between the proliferation rate of LNCaP cells and
the concentration of the androgen R1881 (Figure 2A).
The data indicate that at LAL the cell number of the
androgen-dependent cells increases whereas cells grow
less in the presence of SAL. This suggests a growth in-
hibition at higher, supraphysiological levels of androgens.
The observed biphasic growth response upon androgen
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 2 of 15
Figure 1 AR-agonists induce cellular senescence in LNCaP and C4-2 human prostate cancer cell lines in a concentration dependent manner.
Androgen dependent growing LNCaP and castration resistant C4-2 PCa cell lines were incubated with DMSO as solvent control and different concentrations
of the synthetic and more stable androgen R1881 or the natural androgen DHT for 72 h. Because DHT is metabolized rapidly, DHT was added daily. 1 pM
R1881 is defined as low androgen levels (LAL) and 1 nM R1881 as supraphysiological androgen levels (SAL). Cells were fixed and analyzed for SA β-Gal activity
using a light microscopy and 3x 200 cells were counted and as means of the triplets in percent diagramed. A.SAβ-gal activity of LNCaP cells treated with
R1881 (methyltrienolone). B.SAβ-gal activity of LNCaP cells treated with DHT. C.SAβ-Gal staining in LNCaP cells at 200x magnification by phase microscopy.
Upper panel: Arrowheads indicate the blue precipitations in the cytoplasm in senescent cells. Lower panel depicts the formation of senescence associated
heterochromatic foci (SAHF) via DAPI staining of the nucleus. For fluorescence microscopy a 1000x magnification was used. Arrowheads mark accumulation
of heterochromatic foci. D.SAβ-Gal activity of the human castration resistant PCa cells C4-2. E. Microscopy of cells after SA β-Gal activity detection
(upper panel) and DAPI staining with SAHF formation (lower panel) after androgen treatment of C4-2 cells.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 3 of 15
Figure 2 Higher androgen levels induce growth inhibition and G1 arrest in LNCaP cells. LNCaP cells were treated for 72 h with 1 pM
R1881 defined as low androgen levels (LAL) and 1 nM R1881 as supraphysiological androgen levels (SAL). A. SAL treatment inhibits growth of
LNCaP cells. Cells were treated with the indicted concentrations of R1881 for three days. Cell number was determined and plotted against the
untreated control. For each time point n = 4, the errors are shown in SEM. B. Viability analysis of treated cells was measured by the MTT assay.
LNCaP cells were treated for 72 h with DMSO or with the indicated concentrations of R1881 following spectrometrical measurement to analyze the
relative cell viability. Data represent the mean from triplets and show the cell viability in percent. C. To analyze the irreversibility of androgen-induced
cellular senescence LNCaP cells were treated with SAL or LAL as well as DMSO for 72 h. Afterwards compounds were removed and cells were cultured
for additional 72 h, followed by fixation and determination of the SA β-gal activity level via light microscopy at a 200x magnification. 3x 200 cells from
triplets were counted and their means in percent diagramed. D. FACS analysis was performed to analyze the cell cycle state of R1881 treated cells.
LNCaP cells were incubated for 72 h with solvent control or R1881 (SAL or LAL) and stained with propidium iodide followed by cell sorting analysis.
The acquired FACS data were analyzed by Cylchred (Ormerod, Hoy). Counts of the different cell cycle phases were represented in percent.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 4 of 15
treatment is in line with previous observations [29,31]
and is in accordance with the observed induction of cel-
lular senescence at supraphysiological androgen levels.
To reveal whether SAL changes the cell viability, MTT-
assays were performed. The data indicate that treated
LNCaP cells remain viable at similar levels as compared to
untreated LNCaP cells (Figure 2B). Next, we analyzed
whether the activity of the senescent marker that appears
after three days is reversible. For this purpose androgens
were removed after 3 days by washing the cells and fresh
medium without androgens was added for further
3 days. The level of SA β-Gal activity remains un-
changed after removal of SAL treatment suggesting
that the androgen-induced cellular senescence is irre-
versible (Figure 2C).
In general, cellular senescence is associated with an ar-
rest at the G1/G0 phase of the cell cycle. FACS analyses
were performed which indicates that androgen treatment
at SAL increases the number of cells in the G1/G0 phase
of the cell cycle (Figure 2D), which is in agreement with
Thus, these data suggest that supraphysiological levels
of androgens induce markers of cellular senescence and
inhibit cell growth in a concentration-dependent manner
in both androgen-dependent and -independent growing
AR-agonists induce cellular senescence in human PCa
tissue ex vivo
To detect whether androgens induce cellular senescence
in primary tissue samples, human PCa specimens de-
rived from prostatectomies were treated for 2 days with
10 nM and 1 μM R1881 or 1 μM DHT ex vivo. DHT
levels in men range between 0.8 –2.5 nM . However
the level decrease by age. R1881 has been shown to be
more potent compared to DHT, therefore higher concen-
trations of DHT or R1881 were used to ensure supraphy-
siological levels and that the compounds reach the cells
within the tissue blocks that had a thickness of about 5 ×
5 mm. Interestingly, the SA β-Gal activity was highly in-
creased after androgen administration; in contrast there
were only few SA β-Gal positive stained cells detectable in
PCa tissue without hormone treatment of the same biopsy
(Figure 3A). Differences between the androgens DHT and
R1881 were not observed. Thus, the data suggest that an-
drogen treatment leads to the induction of SA β-Gal activ-
ity in human PCa tissue ex vivo.
Furthermore, RNA was extracted from these tissue
samples to analyze the expression level of the tumor
suppressor p16, p14 and p21, which are described to be
involved in cellular senescence [17-19]. The p14 gene
expression was increased after DHT as well as R1881 ad-
ministration (Figure 3B). p21 and p16 gene expression
exhibited an up-regulation by androgens at SAL.
In summary, to our knowledge this is the first time
that reveal that androgen treatment is able to induce cel-
lular senescence in human PCa tissue ex vivo, which is
in line with the hypothesis that PCa may undergo cellu-
lar senescence and that the LNCaP cell line can serve
well as a suitable in vitro senescence model system that
represents similarities to ex vivo studies using primary
human cancer tissue.
Androgen-induced cellular senescence is mediated
through tumor suppressor genes in LNCaP cells
The p14 gene expression, an activator of p53 via the in-
hibition of Mdm2, was up-regulated in the PCa tissue ex
vivo upon androgen treatment. To examine the role of
this pathway we analyzed mRNA expression after ad-
ministration of androgens in LNCaP cells. The gene ex-
pression of p14 is also increased at SAL but not at LAL
(Figure 4A). An acetylation and stabilization of the tumor
suppressor p53 has been described to occur by senescence-
inducing stimuli . However, neither the total nor acety-
lated protein levels of p53 seem to be changed after andro-
gen treatment in comparison to DMSO as solvent control
(Figure 4B), indicating that p53 might not be involved in
the androgen-mediated cellular senescence.
p16, as a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, is known to
mediate a hypophosphorylation of pRb and consequently
a down regulation of the E2F1 transactivation as wells as
the E2F1 gene expression . After administration of
SAL an upregulation of p16, hypophosphorylation of pRb
and down-regulation of the pRb targets Cyclin D1 as well
as of E2F1 protein levels were observed indicating that
the p16-pRb pathway is regulated by SAL treatment
(Figure 4C). Similar results were obtained by treating the
cells for 6 days (Additional file 3: Figure S3). In contrast,
LAL treatment mediated no detectable changes of p16,
Cyclin D1 and E2F1 expression level. In line with this,
SAL treatment led to inhibition of down-stream targets
of pRB, Cyclin D1 as well as E2F1 at mRNA level
(Figure 4D, E), whereas the p16 mRNA is upregulated
by SAL doses (Figure 4F). Accordingly, the mRNA level
of ID1, an inhibitor of p16 expression, is reduced upon
SAL administration (Figure 4G). Thus, these data indi-
cate that the p16-pRb-E2F1 pathway is associated with
the androgen-mediated cellular senescence.
Interestingly, transient knock-down of p16 by siRNA
strongly reduces the R1881-mediated level of SA β-Gal
activity compared to scrambled (SCR) siRNA, whereas
knock-down of p16 without androgen treatment results
in basal level similar to the controls (Figure 4H) indicat-
ing that the androgen-induced cellular senescence is in
part mediated by the induction of p16.
It has been suggested that the formation of SAHFs co-
incides with stable repression of E2F target genes in a
pRb-dependent manner . SAHFs are considered as
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 5 of 15
heterochromatin, which is also found perinuclear. Since
E2F1 regulates the expression of its own gene by a positive
feedback loop, we analyzed whether the human E2F1 gene
loci localize to SAHF vicinity and whether the E2F1 locus
changes its position within the cell nucleus. For that pur-
pose we used interphase 3D-FISH (3D-iFISH) to label the
E2F1 locus on chromosome 20 and counterstained with
DAPI to detect SAHFs of interphase LNCaP cells. SAHFs
were sparely detected in control treatment. SAL treatment
indicated that the FISH signals are in the vicinity of
SAHFs (Figure 5A). Analyzing 24 interphase 3D nuclei we
found that 65% of the E2F1 covering FISH-signals are
colocalizing with SAHFs and 35% of the FISH signals lie
outside of SAHFs (data not shown, Figure 5B), which indi-
cates an enrichment of the genomic locus within the
SAHFs. Interestingly, analyzing the location of the E2F1
loci in the control treated group reveals a preferred central
and intermediate localization of the E2F1 loci, whereas
SAL treatment indicates an increase of FISH signals in the
nuclear periphery (Figure 5B), suggesting an androgen-
induced change of the nuclear localization of the E2F1 loci
under SAL conditions.
Taken together, the data strongly indicate that androgen
treatment at SAL induces cellular senescence through the
induction of the p16-pRB-E2F1 pathway.
Rapid signaling participates in androgen-induced cellular
We sought to analyze shorter incubation times of andro-
gens to investigate the minimal treatment time for
Figure 3 AR-agonists induce cellular senescence in human PCa tissue ex vivo.Human prostate cancer tissues after prostatectomy were
used to examine the effect of androgens ex vivo. PCa tissue (n = 5 patients) and control (n = 2) samples were treated daily with 1 μM DHT or 10
nM and 1 μM R1881 for 48 h. A. Pictures of representative SA β-Gal stained cryosections (10 μm thickness) of untreated or treated PCa tumor
tissue and non-tumor tissue. Bars represent 300 μm and spots of SA β-gal positive cells were labeled with arrows. B. Analysis of the gene expression of
p16, p14 and p21 was performed via qRT-PCR. Gene expression was normalized to GAPDH and the values for untreated samples were set as one. Error
bars indicate the standard deviation of the mean of doublets of the samples of one group.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 6 of 15
Figure 4 Androgen-induced cellular senescence is mediated through the tumor suppressors p16-pRb. To examine the signaling pathways
involved in the induction of cellular senescence, Western blotting, 3D-FISH of interphase nuclei, qRT-PCRs and transient transfections with siRNA
were performed. LNCaP cells were incubated for 72 h with solvent control or different R1881 concentrations (1 pM = LAL; 1 nM = SAL). C, solvent
control (DMSO). A. qRT-PCR was performed to analyze mRNA expression of p14. Gene expression was normalized to β-actin and the values for
untreated samples (C). Error bars indicate the standard deviation of the mean of doublets. B. Protein levels of p53 as a target of p14 were
detected with immunoblotting using antibodies against p53 and acetylated p53 (ac p53) known to be involved in cellular senescence pathway.
Quantification of the bands was realized via Labimage D1 and the expression levels of the target proteins were normalized and given as band
intensity to the loading control α-tubulin, untreated sample. C. Changes of the p16-pRb pathway by androgen treatment were analyzed by
Western blotting. D-G) Quantitative qRT-PCR was performed to analyze mRNA expression with primers directed against indicated mRNAs. Gene
expression was normalized to β-actin. Error bars indicate the standard deviation of the mean of doublets. C: solvent control (DMSO). H. Transient
transfection of small interference RNA (siRNA) and subsequent SA β-gal assays were used to analyze the effects of p16 on the androgen-induced
senescence. LNCaP cells were transfected via electroporation with srambled control (SCR) siRNA as negative control or p16 siRNA and without
any siRNA (−) 24 h prior R1881 treatment. Thereafter, cells were fixed and analyzed for SA β-Gal activity using a light microscopy at 200x
magnification and 3× 200 cells were counted and as means of the triplets in percent diagramed.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 7 of 15
androgen-induced cellular senescence. Administration of
androgens at LAL reveals no changes in the level of cel-
lular senescence at any time point. In contrast, the SA
β-Gal activity under SAL conditions is increased after
only 3 h of treatment and reaches a maximum after 72 h
(Figure 6A). These data indicate that the R1881-induced
cellular senescence is partially mediated through a rapid
On the one hand, Western blotting data indicate that
the total amount of Src seems to be unchanged after
SAL treatment (Figure 6B). The ratio between Src and
phospho-Src is changed towards a slight increase of Src
phosphorylation after SAL. Interestingly, we also ob-
served an increase of Akt phosphorylation (Figure 6B).
Based on these findings we investigated the involvement
of the Src- and Akt-kinase in androgen-induced cellular
senescence using first a Src-specific inhibitor. Notably,
treatment of LNCaP cells with the Src inhibitor PP2
under SAL conditions reduces the androgen-mediated
cellular senescence (Figure 6C). In contrast, inhibition of
Src without androgens or with LAL has no detectable
influence on the SA β-Gal activity in LNCaP cells com-
pared to control. This indicates that the androgen-
induced cellular senescence is mediated in part by Src-
On the other hand, blocking MEK1/2-kinases, which
function downstream of the Src-kinase, via the U0126 in-
hibitor reveals no obvious effect on androgen-induced cel-
lular senescence. In line with this, R1881 mediates no
change of the phosphorylation level of ERK1/2 (Additional
file 4: Figure S4). Furthermore, other Src downstream fac-
tors such as p38 and STAT3 were analyzed using specific
inhibitors without an indication for their participation in
this process (data not shown). With this background we
focused on other pathways downstream of the Src-kinase.
Akt phosphorylation is a well-known pathway of the
Src tyrosine kinase and involves signaling molecules
such as the PI3K as well as the mammalian target of
rapamycin (mTOR). Using inhibitors the role of these
factors in androgen-mediated cellular senescence was
analyzed. Inhibition of PI3K, an Akt-activating kinase,
by the 3-MA inhibitor, reduced the level of androgen-
induced cellular senescent cells (Figure 6D), which con-
firms that the Src-Akt signaling pathway is involved in
androgen-induced cellular senescence at supraphysiologi-
cal levels. Similarly, using a specific Akt-kinase inhibitor
(Akti) reveals a strong reduction of the SAL-mediated SA
β-Gal activity (Figure 6E). Thereby, treatment with the
Akt-inhibitor alone results in a basal level of cellular sen-
escence similar to untreated or DMSO control, whereas in
combination with SAL the androgen-mediated cellular
senescence is strongly reduced and close to the basal level.
Since the incubation at SAL but not at LAL specifically in-
creases the phosphorylation level of Akt protein as well as
inhibition of this pathway reduces androgen-induced cel-
lular senescence, we assume that the Akt-kinase could be
one key regulator of androgen-induced cellular senescence
in LNCaP cells.
Thus, the data suggest that the Src tyrosine kinase and
the downstream Akt-PI3K pathway mediate in part the
androgen-induced cellular senescence.
A further downstream target of the Src- and the Akt-
kinase is mTOR, which is involved in proliferation and
cell cycle regulation processes . Rapamycin alone
mediates no detectable change in the level of cellular
senescence. In contrast, rapamycin co-treated with SAL
resulted in reduction of SA β-Gal positive stained cells
Notably, AR translocaton studies using a GFP-AR ex-
pression plasmid indicate that neither the Src-kinase in-
hibitor PP2 nor the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin seem to
have an influence on the receptor nuclear translocation
(data not shown). Thus, the data show that rapamycin re-
duces the androgen-mediated SA β-Gal activity and sug-
gest that mTOR is partially involved in androgen-
mediated cellular senescence. This supports the notion
that the Src-Akt-mTOR signaling mediates the androgen-
mediated induction of cellular senescence.
Taken together, these observations indicate that
androgen-induced cellular senescence is mediated at
least in part by the AR-driven rapid signaling pathway
involving the Src-Akt-mTOR signaling.
Androgens regulate autophagy acivity in LNCaP cells
Rapamycin was described to induce the degradation
process autophagy . Gamerdinger et al.  linked
this process to cellular senescence. Since rapamycin is
reducing SAL-mediated cellular senescence in LNCaP
cells, we therefore hypothesized a link between androgen-
induced cellular senescence and autophagy.
The conversion of LC3 was analyzed, which is an im-
portant marker of autophagy activity, derived from the
cytosolic LC3-I into the autophageosom-associated LC3-
II . Accordingly, autophagy activity is measured by the
ratio of LC3-I to LC3-II. LC3-II is detectable in the control
(Figure 7A) suggesting basal autophagy activity in LNCaP
cells. After LAL incubation LC3 conversion is reduced and
the protein level of LC3-I is increased (Figure 7A). The dif-
ferent levels of LC3-I may derive from reduced conversion/
degradation or protein stability/expression. Interestingly,
into LC3-II after SAL administration, indicated by the
higher level of LC3-II compared to LC3-I (Figure 7A).
These results lead to the assumption that supraphysiologi-
cal levels of androgens influence autophagy markers and
autophagy activity. The strong reduction of the ratio is in
part reverted by treatment with rapamycin or the Src in-
hibitor PP2, which is associated with the inhibition of SAL-
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 8 of 15
mediated SA β-Gal activity. This indicates that autophagy is
associated with the SAL-mediated cellular senescence.
Furthermore, a punctuated LC3 pattern, which is indica-
tive of the integration of LC3 as protein aggregates into
the autophageosome membrane and therefore an autoph-
agy marker  was employed using the GFP-LC3 fusion
protein. Interestingly, SAL treatment induced a specific
GFP pattern, which is still visible in combination with the
autophagy inducer rapamycin but was inhibited through
3-MA co-treatment (Figure 7B), indicating that SAL treat-
ment is associated with enhanced autophagy. Thus inhib-
ition of PI3K and autophagy by 3-MA reduces the level of
androgen-mediated cellular senescence.
Since androgens induce a robust induction of p14 gene
expression in LNCaP cells (Figure 3B) as an androgen re-
sponse, we analyzed the androgen-induced expression of
p14 after shorter treatment times. In the presence or ab-
sence of 3-MA time-dependent experiments suggest that
under SAL conditions the induction of p14 mRNA expres-
sion is observed after only 16 hours (Figure 7C) indicating
that p14 may not be the timely primary target of the rapid
response to androgen-induced cellular senescence. Inter-
estingly, 3-MA treatment counteracts the androgen-
induced p14 gene expression (Figure 7C). Thus, these
results suggest that androgens upregulates of autophagy
activity, which supports the hypothesis that supraphy-
siological levels of androgens regulate autophagy activ-
ity in LNCaP cells.
Taken together, reduction of SAL-mediated cellular
senescence by 3-MA is associated with an inhibition of
androgen-induced autophagy activity linking androgen-
mediated cellular senescence with autophagy.
Figure 5 Three dimensional interphase FISH (3D-iFISH) indicates an androgen-induced change of the nuclear localization of the E2F1
loci under SAL conditions. A. 3D-iFISH of interphase LNCaP nuclei using a DNA probe directed against the genomic E2F1 gene loci (chromosome
20) were performed and costained with DAPI to detect the location of the genomic locus in relation to formed SAHFs after SAL treatment. One nucleus
is shown representatively at various angles for 3D projection. Analysis of 24 nuclei suggests that 65% of the E2F1 loci colocalize with SAHFs (see text).
B. Analysis of 24 senescent LNCaP nuclei in the same experimental setup as in (I) summarizing the location of the E2F1 loci within the nuclei
differentiating between a peripheral, intermediate and center localization of the E2F1 genomic loci on chromosome 20.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 9 of 15
Figure 6 Supraphysiological androgen levels mediate cellular senescence in LNCaP cells partially through rapid signaling. The induction of
cellular senescence in LNCaP cells induced by androgens was determined after indicated treatment times with solvent control, 1 pM (low androgen
levels = LAL) or 1 nM R1881 (supraphysiological androgen level =SAL). After the treatment times cells were washed to remove the compounds and
cultured for total of 3 days. Afterwards, cells were fixed and analyzed for SA β-Gal activity using a light microscopy at 200x magnification and 3x 200
cells were counted and as means of the triplets plotted in percent. A. LNCaP cells were treated between 1 for up to 72 h. Thereby at shorter incubation
times, indicated compounds were removed and cells were cultivated until 72 h in total. B. LNCaP cells were incubated for 72 h with R1881 and
followed by detection of Akt and Src as well as their phosphorylated forms by specific antibodies by Western blot analysis. For quantification LabImage
D1 was used. C. Detection of SA β-gal staining of LNCaP cells incubated for 72 h with the Src tyrosine kinase inhibitor PP2 (1 μM) in combination with
LAL and SAL. D. The PI3-kinase inhibitor 3-MA was added to LNCaP cell culture at the indicated concentrations with and without R1881 for 3 d and
analyzed using light microscopy and 3x 200 cells were counted and the mean of the triplets is diagrammed in percent. E. Detection of SA β-Gal
staining of LNCaP cells incubated for 72 h with an Akt-inhibitor (Akti; 1 μM) in combination with SAL treatment. F. Detection of SA β-Gal staining of
LNCaP cells incubated for 72 h with the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin (1 nM) in combination with LAL or SAL treatment.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 10 of 15
Notably, several reports show that supraphysiological
levels of androgens inhibit the proliferation of human
PCa cells and tumor growth [5-9]. It is suggested that
PCa tumor cells respond in a biphasic manner to andro-
gens. Both at very low and at supraphysiological andro-
gen levels the growth of PCa tumor cells is inhibited. A
study on a large prospective cohort, contributes to the
gathering evidence that the long standing “androgen hy-
pothesis”of increasing PCa risk with increasing androgen
levels might be rejected [39-41]. Furthermore, it has been
suggested that the androgen-activated AR acts also as a
tumor suppressor for prostate cancer . In line with this,
treatment of mice with SAL inhibits the growth of human
CRPCa cells in xenograft mouse model system in vivo
The androgen-dependent human LNCaP PCa cells,
widely used as a PCa model system, display a biphasic pro-
liferative response to androgen stimulation low androgen
concentrations stimulate proliferation, while higher andro-
gen concentrations inhibit cell proliferation [43,44]. How-
ever, the underlying molecular mechanism is not fully
understood. Here, we suggest that the induction of cellular
senescence by supraphysiological androgens may in part
explain the inhibition of PCa growth.
Thus, we demonstrate that the induction of cellular
senescence markers is detectable in LNCaP cells, the hu-
man CRPCa C4-2 cells as well as in human PCa tissue
derived from prostatectomies treated with supraphysio-
logical levels of androgens. The induction of the tumor
suppressor p16 was observed and accordingly a hypo-
auto-regulated by E2F1 binding sites in the E2F1 pro-
moter . Hypophosphorylated pRb will thus inhibit
E2F1-mediated transcriptional activity and thus E2F1
mRNA expression, which is reflected by the observed data.
Since siRNA of p16 reduces the level of senescent cells we
therefore hypothesize that supraphysiological androgens
mediate cellular senescence in part through the p16-pRB-
E2F1 pathway. In line with this, we observed an accumula-
tion of the E2F1 gene locus in SAHFs.
Based on the surprisingly rapid response of androgen
exposure to induce cellular senescence and the use of in-
hibitors of the tyrosine kinase family, Akt and mTOR,
that inhibit the androgen-induced cellular senescence,
we furthermore suggest that the rapid, non-genomic an-
drogen action is involved in the induction of cellular
senescence by supraphysiological androgens.
The induction of cellular senescence in human PCa cells
has been described by our group using novel AR-specific
antagonists addressing the human AR  being the first
report an AR-dependent induction of cellular senescence.
The induction of cellular senescence has been described for
PC3 cells, a human metastatic PCa cell line that have
originally lost AR expression, stably transfected with the
human AR and treated with the androgen R1881, defined
there as DHT . We confirmed also the androgen-
induced cellular senescence in PC3-AR cells. Interestingly
PC3-AR cells are p53 negative and the p16 locus in hyper-
methylated [47,48] In line with this and with previous re-
port  were unable to detect neither p16 nor a regulation
of E2F1 levels by SAL or LAL (Additional file 5: Figure S5),
whereas we observed an induction of p21 mRNA
level by SAL. The lack of p16 expression in PC3-AR
cells suggests that the androgen-induced cellular sen-
cells and suggests that the AR might have interest-
ingly various cellular pathways to induce androgen-
mediated cellular senescence.
Taken together, our data suggest that supraphysiological
androgens induce cellular senescence in human PCa tis-
sues as well as the PCa model cell lines LNCaP and C4-2.
To our knowledge this is the first description that andro-
gens induce cellular senescence ex vivo. Induction of the
tumor suppressor p16 and its pathway is one underlying
molecular mechanism to induce cellular senescence to-
gether with androgen-mediated rapid signaling is involved
in mediating androgen-induced cellular senescence.
Since inhibition of PCa growth is a primary goal in
therapy, the induction of cellular senescence and cell
cycle inhibition represents an interesting option and
may explain previous finding that androgens seem to
have some beneficial roles.
Cell lines and culture
As a model of human androgen-dependent growing PCa a
LNCaP (lymph node prostate cancer) cell line was used.
Cells were cultured in RPMI (1640) with 10% FBS, 1%
penicillin/streptomycin, 1% sodium pyruvate and 25 mM
HEPES (pH 7.8). Additionally, the C4-2 cell line was used
to represent androgen-independent growing PCa cells.
Cells were cultured in DMEM supplemented with
20% F12, 10% FCS, 5 μg/ml insulin, 5 μg/ml apotransferin,
0.25 μg/ml biotin, 25 μg/ml adenine and 1% penicillin/
streptomycin. All cells were cultured in a 5% CO
air, humidified atmosphere at 37°C. Growth assays were
performed as described earlier .
Senescence-associated β-galactosidase (SA β-Gal) staining
The staining was performed essentially as described by
Dimri et al. . Cells were seeded at 20% density as
triplets. The next day cells were treated with the indi-
cated compounds for different incubation times. After-
wards, the cells were washed with PBS and fixed for
5 min in 1% glutardialdehyde. Fixed cells were washed
with PBS and incubated with fresh SA β-Gal staining
solution [40 mM citric acid/sodium phosphate buffer
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 11 of 15
Figure 7 Androgen-mediated cellular senescence is linked to autophagy activity. To examine the association between the androgen-mediated
induction of SA β-gal activity as a specific marker for cellular senescence and autophagy the conversion of LC3 was analyzed after 3 d incubation of
LNCaP cells with SAL or LAL. A. The conversion of LC3 I to LC3 II as a marker of autophagy activity was detected by Western blotting experiments.
LNCaP cells were treated with the Src tyrosine kinase inhibitor PP2 (1 μM) or the mTOR inhibitor rapamycin (1 nM) in addition to SAL and the conversion
of the autophagy marker from LC3 I to LC3 II was detected via Western blotting. Quantification of the bands was performed by the Labimage D1 program.
The expression levels of LC3 I and II were normalized to the band intensities of the loading untreated sample control β-actin that was set as 1. The ratios
of these values are indicated below. B. The puncated pattern of LC3 is indicative for autophagy activity and was analyzed by using GFP-LC3. LNCaP cells
were transfected with GFP-LC3 and treated with the indicated compounds for the indicated period. The distribution of GFP-LC3 and formation of
puncated pattern was analyzed by fluorescence microscopy. C. The up-regulation of p14 gene expression by SAL is inhibited by an inhibitor of PI3K
and autophagy. qRT-PCR of LNCaP cells that were treated with the indicated time periods with and without SAL and 3-MA as described in Figure 3B.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 12 of 15
(pH 6.0) containing 1 mg X-gal (5-bromo-4-chloro-3-
indolyl-b-D-galactopyranoside)/ml, 5 mM potassium
ferrocyanide 5 mM potassium ferricyanide, 150 mM
NaCl, and 2 mM MgCl
] at 37°C without CO
staining solution contains X-Gal, a galactopyranosid,
which is converted by an active galactosidase into a blue
colorant. After overnight incubation blue stained cells
were detected and counted by light microscopy [50,51].
200 cells per well were counted and the average of trip-
lets is diagramed. Used compounds are: 1 nM (supra-
physiological androgen level = SAL) and 1 pM R1881
(low androgen level = LAL) (Methyltrionolone, Perkin
Elmer); 10 nM DHT (Sigma); 1 μM Src-Inhibitor PP2
pyrimidine, Calbiochem); 1 μM Akt-Inhibitor (1 L6-Hy-
octadecyl-sn-glycerocarbonat, Calbiochem) and 1 nM
rapamycin as an inhibitor of mTOR (LC Laboratories).
Detection of senescence-associated heterochromatic
Cells were seeded as duplicates in RPMI at 10% conflu-
ence. After 24 h the cells were treated with different
compounds for 3 d followed by washing with PBS and
collected via trypsinization. DNA was visualized by
DAPI (4′,6-Diamidino-2-phenylindol) at 1 μg/ml after
dropping cells on glass slides and dehydration. Images
were taken by fluorescence microscopy.
LNCaP cells were seeded as duplicates in RPMI at 10%
confluence. After 24 h cells were treated with different
compounds for 3 d. For FACS analysis cells were trypsi-
nized, washed twice with PBS and fixed for 3 h with 70%
ethanol at −20°C. Afterwards cells were incubated for
45 min at 4°C while rotating with staining solution
(2.5 μg/ml propidium iodide, 0.1 mg/ml RNAse A and
0.05% Triton X-100). 10 000 cells were analyzed with
CyFlow ML cytometer (Partec, Muenster, Germany) and
the cell cycle phases were determined by Cylchred. The
percentage of cells in the different cell cycle phases is
MTT viability assay
LNCaP cells were seeded as triplets in RPMI at 5% con-
fluence on 96-well plates. The next day cells were
treated with the different compounds for 3 d followed
by the addition of MTT-solution (cell growth determin-
ation Kit MTT based Marker, Sigma) and 4 h incubation
at 37°C. Afterwards, the media/MTT-solution was re-
moved, MTT-solvent was added and cells were mea-
sured at a wavelength of 570 nM (reference wavelength:
690 nM) via an ELISA-Reader.
Western blot analysis
After 3 d of treatment proteins extracts were obtained
via NETN buffer (200 mM NaCl, 20 mM Tris/HCl pH
= 8.0, 1 mM EDTA, 0.5% NP40) and freezing-thawing
using liquid nitrogen. Proteins were loaded on SDS-
PAGEs with different acrylamid content, specific for the
size of the investigated proteins. Visualization of proteins
blotted on the membrane were performed by different
primary antibodies [α-Tubulin, β-Actin, pRb (Abcam);
p21, p53, ac p53 (Lys 379), p16, Cyclin D1, phospho-
pRb (Ser 807/811), Src, phospho-Src (Tyr 416), Akt,
phospho-Akt (Ser 473; Cell Signaling); E2F1 (Santa
Cruz); LC3 (Sigma)] and secondary antibodies [anti-
mouse, anti-rabbit (Santa Cruz)] coupled with horserad-
ish peroxidase with enhanced chemiluminescence.
Quantification of the bands was performed by the Lab-
image D1 program.
Quantitative reverse transcription PCR (qRT-PCR)
RNA was isolated using peqGOLD TriFast (Peqlab) accord-
ing to the manufacturer’s protocol. RNA was used in a one-
step qRT-PCR reaction using the SuperScript III Platinum
SYBR Green One-Step qRT-PCR Kit (Invitrogen) with the
following primer sequences (indicated as 5′→3′):
p14 forw. CCTGGAGGCGGCGAGAAC, rev. CAG
p16 forw. CTTGCCTGGAAAGATACCG, rev. CCC
p21 forw. TCGACTTTGTCACCGAGACACCAC, rev.
Atg3 forw. GCCCCAGGATGCAGAATGTG, rev.
Atg5 forw. GCTTCGAGATGTGTGGTTTGGACG,
Atg7 forw. CAGTTTGCCCCTTTTAGTCAGTGCC,
β-actin forw. ACAGAGCCTCGCCTTTGCCGA, rev.
Beclin 1 forw. CAGGTGAGCTTCGTGTGCC, rev.
CyclinD1 forw. TCAACCTAAGTTCGGTTCCGATG,
E2F1: Fw: GCAGAGCAGATGGTTATGG, rev.
GAPDH forw. GTGAACCATGAGAAGTATGACA
AC, rev. GAGTCCTTCCACGATACC;
ID1 forw. GGTAAACGTGCTGCTCTACGACATG,
LC3A forw. CGAGTTGGTCAAGATCATCCGGC,
LC3B forw. TAGAGCGATACAAGGGGGAGAAGC,
rev. TGTGTCGTTCACCAACAGGAAG and
PI3K forw. GCTTGGAAGGGAAGAGAGAACAAAA
GAG, rev. CTTGGGCATTCCTGGGCAG.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 13 of 15
Obtained data analyses were normalized to β-actin or
GAPDH mRNA levels and diagramed as fold induction.
Results were analyzed via the ΔΔCt-method.
To analyze the expression of specific genes in eukaryotic
cells, stealth RNAi (Invitrogen) was used. LNCaP cells were
trypsinized and with 10–20 nM siRNA transiently trans-
fected by electroporation. As negative control srcambled
siRNA, and additionally one sample without any siRNA
were used. The knockdown efficiency was detected via
transfected cells were treated with different compounds
24 h after electroporation and the induction of cellular sen-
escence was analyzed.
Ex vivo human prostate tissue analysis
Prostate cancer tissue derived from prostatectomy was
pathological examined and as 5 x 5 mm pieces cultured
with the different hormones in RPMI (1640) with 10%
FCS, 1% penicillin/streptomycin, 1% sodium pyruvate
and 25 mM HEPES (pH 7.8) for 2 d. Afterwards, the
SA β-gal staining and RNA isolation followed as de-
scribed before. Ethical approval was granted (3286-11/
11). Gleason scores were between 7 and 9. Pre-surgery
PSA values were between 4 and 16 ng/ml.
3D - interphase fluorescence in situ hybridization (iFISH)
3D-iFISH in LNCaP cell nuclei of untreated or treated cell
with SAL for three days was performed as described earl-
ier for lymphocytes . DNA probes for the region
q11.1-qter that include the E2F1 gene locus were obtained
from the Multicolor Chromosome Banding (MCB) probes
library (particularly, MCB 20–3 DNA probe was used).
Overlap of chromosome 20 and SAHFs was found in 57
from 88 totally analyzed cells. DAPI staining was used to
detect SAHFs. Overlap of FISH-signals and SAHFs was
evaluated using the Cell^P software (Olympus).
Additional file 1: Figure S1. Detection of the SA‐beta Gal activity
comparing three and six days of incubation with low (LAL) or
supraphysiological (SAL) androgen levels in LNCaP cells. Similar
experimental setup as in Figure 1A. The level of senescent cells is not
increased with longer treatment times.
Additional file 2: Figure S2. Detection ofthe SA‐beta Gal activity
comparing three and six days of incubation with low (LAL) or
supraphysiological (SAL) androgen levels in PC3‐AR cells or PC3-tet‐AR cells
kindly provided by Dr. Volpert (Mirochnik et al. ). Similar experimental setup
as in Figure 1A. Androgens mediate the induction of cellular senescence. A)
Level of senescent cells after 3 or 6 days of treatment. B) Doxycyclin inducible
expression of the human AR and AR‐dependent as well androgen‐dependent
induction of cellular senescence.
Additional file 3: Figure S3. Changes of the indicated factors by
androgen treatment for 6 days using LNCaP cells were analyzed by (A)
qRT‐PCR and (B) by Western blotting similarly as described in Figure 4.
β-actin was used as loading control. Quantification of the bands was realized
via Labimage D1 and the expression levels of the target proteins were
normalized and given as band intensity to the loading control β-actin,
untreated sample was set arbitrarily as one. C: solvent control (DMSO).
Additional file 4: Figure S4. Detection of p21 and E2F1 mRNA and
protein levels in PC3‐AR cells after in response LAL or SAL androgen
levels detected by (A) qRT-PCR or (B) Western blotting, respectively. The
p21 mRNA levels are increased after SAL whereas no significant changes
of E2F1 were observed after androgen treatment for 72 hours.
Additional file 5: Figure S5. Detection of MEK1/2 phosphorylation in
response LAL or SAL androgen levels in LNCaP cells detected by Western
blotting. No significant changes of phosphorylation level of ERK1/2 were
observed after androgen treatment for 72 hours. C: solvent control (DMSO).
AR: Androgen receptor; CRPCa: Castration resistant PCa;
DHT: Dihydrotestosterone; DMSO: Dimethyl sulfoxide; iFISH: Interphase
fluorescence in situ hybridyzation; LAL: Low androgen levels;
mTOR: Mammalian target of rapamycin; PCa: Prostate cancer; PSA: Prostate
specific antigen; R1881: Methyltrienolone; SA β-Gal: Senescence-associated
beta-galactosidase; SAHF: Senescence-associated heterochromatic foci;
SAL: Supraphysiological androgen levels; wt: Wild-type.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
JR identified and analyzed the androgen-induced senescence in LNCaP cell
lines WH has been involved in molecular analyses of the human tissue
samples. SB has performed part of the qRT-PCRs, MM has performed the
3D-iFISH. TH supervised and gave input to 3D-iFISH SSH and M.E. have analyzed
the p16 expression and analyzed the androgen response to PC3-AR. SF provided
the tissue samples
IP provided the pathology of the human tissue samples. M-OG
performed surgery. AB provided the funding and supervision. All authors read and
approved the final manuscript.
We are grateful for Dr. Volpert for providing the tet-inducible PC3-AR cells.
We are also grateful to Dipl. Biochem. Florian Kraft for technical help using
FACS. This work was supported by the German Cancer Aid to A.B and the
Jena University Hospital.
Institute of Human Genetics, Jena University Hospital, 07740 Jena, Germany.
Institute of Pathology, Jena University Hospital, 07740 Jena, Germany.
Institute of Urology, Jena University Hospital, 07740 Jena, Germany.
address: National Institutes of Health (NIH) Section on Molecular
Morphogenesis, Bethesda, MD 20892-5431, USA.
Received: 24 April 2014 Accepted: 27 August 2014
Published: 12 September 2014
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Cite this article as: Roediger et al.:Supraphysiological androgen levels
induce cellular senescence in human prostate cancer cells through the
Src-Akt pathway. Molecular Cancer 2014 13:214.
Roediger et al. Molecular Cancer 2014, 13:214 Page 15 of 15