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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Cancer 1/2018

Inhibition of p38 MAPK activity leads to cell type-specific effects on the molecular circadian clock and time-dependent reduction of glioma cell invasiveness

BMC Cancer > Ausgabe 1/2018
Charles S. Goldsmith, Sam Moon Kim, Nirmala Karunarathna, Nichole Neuendorff, L. Gerard Toussaint, David J. Earnest, Deborah Bell-Pedersen
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12885-017-3896-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



The circadian clock is the basis for biological time keeping in eukaryotic organisms. The clock mechanism relies on biochemical signaling pathways to detect environmental stimuli and to regulate the expression of clock-controlled genes throughout the body. MAPK signaling pathways function in both circadian input and output pathways in mammals depending on the tissue; however, little is known about the role of p38 MAPK, an established tumor suppressor, in the mammalian circadian system. Increased expression and activity of p38 MAPK is correlated with poor prognosis in cancer, including glioblastoma multiforme; however, the toxicity of p38 MAPK inhibitors limits their clinical use. Here, we test if timed application of the specific p38 MAPK inhibitor VX-745 reduces glioma cell invasive properties in vitro.


The levels and rhythmic accumulation of active phosphorylated p38 MAPK in different cell lines were determined by western blots. Rhythmic luciferase activity from clock gene luciferase reporter cells lines was used to test the effect of p38 MAPK inhibition on clock properties as determined using the damped sine fit and Levenberg–Marquardt algorithm. Nonlinear regression and Akaike’s information criteria were used to establish rhythmicity. Boyden chamber assays were used to measure glioma cell invasiveness following time-of-day-specific treatment with VX-745. Significant differences were established using t-tests.


We demonstrate the activity of p38 MAPK cycles under control of the clock in mouse fibroblast and SCN cell lines. The levels of phosphorylated p38 MAPK were significantly reduced in clock-deficient cells, indicating that the circadian clock plays an important role in activation of this pathway. Inhibition of p38 MAPK activity with VX-745 led to cell-type-specific period changes in the molecular clock. In addition, phosphorylated p38 MAPK levels were rhythmic in HA glial cells, and high and arrhythmic in invasive IM3 glioma cells. We show that inhibition of p38 MAPK activity in IM3 cells at the time of day when the levels are normally low in HA cells under control of the circadian clock, significantly reduced IM3 invasiveness.


Glioma treatment with p38 MAPK inhibitors may be more effective and less toxic if administered at the appropriate time of the day.
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