Sphingosine kinase 2 (Sphk2) has an oncogenic role in cancer. A recently developed first-in-class Sphk2 specific inhibitor ABC294640 displays antitumor activity in many cancer models. However, the role of Sphk2 and the antitumor activity of its inhibitor ABC294640 are not known in cholangiocarcinoma. We investigated the potential of targeting Sphk2 for the treatment of cholangiocarcinoma. We found that Sphk2 is overexpressed in five established human cholangiocarcinoma cell lines (WITT, HuCCT1, EGI-1, OZ and HuH28) and a new patient-derived cholangiocarcinoma cell line (LIV27) compared to H69 normal cholangiocytes. Inhibition of Sphk2 by ABC294640 inhibited proliferation and induced caspase-dependent apoptosis. Furthermore, we found that ABC294640 inhibited STAT3 phosphorylation, one of the key signaling pathways regulating cholangiocarcinoma cell proliferation and survival. ABC294640 also induced autophagy. Inhibition of autophagy by bafilomycin A1 or chloroquine potentiated ABC294640-induced cytotoxicity and apoptosis. In addition, ABC294640 in combination with sorafenib synergistically inhibited cell proliferation of cholangiocarcinoma cells. Strong decreases in STAT3 phosphorylation were observed in WITT and HuCCT1 cells exposed to the ABC294640 and sorafenib combination. These findings provide novel evidence that Sphk2 may be a rational therapeutic target in cholangiocarcinoma. Combinations of ABC294640 with sorafenib and/or autophagy inhibitors may provide novel strategies for the treatment of cholangiocarcinoma.
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