Immunohistochemical characterization of procaspase-3 overexpression as a druggable target with PAC-1, a procaspase-3 activator, in canine and human brain cancers

Lisa J. Schlein, Bahaa Fadl-Alla, Holly C. Pondenis, Stephane Lezmi, Charles G. Eberhart, Amy K. LeBlanc, Peter J. Dickinson, Paul J. Hergenrother, Timothy M. Fan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gliomas and meningiomas are the most common brain neoplasms affecting both humans and canines, and identifying druggable targets conserved across multiple brain cancer histologies and comparative species could broadly improve treatment outcomes. While satisfactory cure rates for low grade, non-invasive brain cancers are achievable with conventional therapies including surgery and radiation, the management of non-resectable or recurrent brain tumors remains problematic and necessitates the discovery of novel therapies that could be accelerated through a comparative approach, such as the inclusion of pet dogs with naturally-occurring brain cancers. Evidence supports procaspase-3 as a druggable brain cancer target with PAC-1, a pro-apoptotic, small molecule activator of procaspase-3 that crosses the blood-brain barrier. Procaspase-3 is frequently overexpressed in malignantly transformed tissues and provides a preferential target for inducing cancer cell apoptosis. While preliminary evidence supports procaspase-3 as a viable target in preclinical models, with PAC-1 demonstrating activity in rodent models and dogs with spontaneous brain tumors, the broader applicability of procaspase-3 as a target in human brain cancers, as well as the comparability of procaspase-3 expressions between differing species, requires further investigation. As such, a large-scale validation of procaspase-3 as a druggable target was undertaken across 651 human and canine brain tumors. Relative to normal brain tissues, procaspase-3 was overexpressed in histologically diverse cancerous brain tissues, supporting procaspase-3 as a broad and conserved therapeutic target. Additionally, procaspase-3 expressing glioma and meningioma cell lines were sensitive to the apoptotic effects of PAC-1 at biologically relevant exposures achievable in cancer patients. Importantly, the clinical relevance of procaspase-3 as a potential prognostic variable was demonstrated in human astrocytomas of variable histologic grades and associated clinical outcomes, whereby tumoral procaspase-3 expression was negatively correlated with survival; findings which suggest that PAC-1 might provide the greatest benefit for patients with the most guarded prognoses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number96
JournalFrontiers in Oncology
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - 2019


  • Brain cancer
  • Canine comparative
  • Glioma
  • Meningioma
  • PAC-1
  • Procaspase-3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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