Multidrug resistance (MDR), an unfavorable factor compromising the treatment efficacy of anticancer drugs, involves the upregulation of ATP binding cassette (ABC) transporters and induction of galectin-3 signaling. Galectin-3 plays an anti-apoptotic role in many cancer cells and regulates various pathways to activate MDR. Thus, the inhibition of galectin-3 has the potential to enhance the efficacy of the anticancer drug epirubicin. In this study, we examined the effects and mechanisms of silencing galectin-3 via RNA interference (RNAi) on the β-catenin/GSK-3β pathway in human colon adenocarcinoma Caco-2 cells. Galectin-3 knockdown increased the intracellular accumulation of epirubicin in Caco-2 cells; suppressed the mRNA expression of galectin-3, β-catenin, cyclin D1, c-myc, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), MDR-associated protein (MRP) 1, and MRP2; and downregulated the protein expression of Pgp, cyclin D1, galectin-3, β-catenin, c-Myc, and Bcl-2. Moreover, galectin-3 RNAi treatment significantly increased the mRNA level of GSK-3β, Bax, caspase-3, and caspase-9; remarkably increased the Bax-to-Bcl-2 ratio; and upregulated the GSK-3β and Bax protein expressions. Apoptosis was induced by galectin-3 RNAi and/or epirubicin as demonstrated by chromatin condensation, a higher sub-G1 phase proportion, and increased caspase-3 and caspase-9 activity, indicating an intrinsic/mitochondrial apoptosis pathway. Epirubicin-mediated resistance was effectively inhibited via galectin-3 RNAi treatment. However, these phenomena could be rescued after galectin-3 overexpression. We show for the first time that the silencing of galectin-3 sensitizes MDR cells to epirubicin by inhibiting ABC transporters and activating the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis through modulation of the β-catenin/GSK-3β pathway in human colon cancer cells.
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