Limited therapeutic efficacy of temozolomide (TMZ) against glioblastomas highlights the importance of exploring new drugs for clinical therapy. Sunitinib, a multitargeted receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor, is currently being tested as therapy for glioblastomas. Unfortunately, sunitinib still has insufficient activity to cure glioblastomas. Our aim was to determine the molecular mechanisms counteracting sunitinib drug sensitivity and find potential adjuvant drugs for glioblastoma therapy. Through in vitro experiments, transcriptome screening by RNA sequencing, and in silico analyses, we found that sunitinib induced glioma apoptotic death, and downregulated genes were enriched in oncogenic genes of glioblastoma. Meanwhile, sunitinib-upregulated genes were highly associated with the protective autophagy process. Blockade of autophagy significantly enhanced sunitinib’s cytotoxicity. Growth arrest and DNA damage-inducible protein (GADD) 34 was identified as a candidate involved in sunitinib-promoted autophagy through activating p38-mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling. Higher GADD34 levels predicted poor survival of glioblastoma patients and induced autophagy formation in desensitizing sunitinib cytotoxicity. Guanabenz, an alpha2-selective adrenergic agonist and GADD34 functional inhibitor, was identified to enhance the efficacy of sunitinib by targeting GADD34-induced protective autophagy in glioblastoma cells, TMZ-resistant cells, hypoxic cultured cells, sphere-forming cells, and colony formation abilities. A better combined treatment effect with sunitinib and guanabenz was also observed by using xenograft mice. Taken together, the sunitinib therapy combined with guanabenz in the inhibition of GADD34-enhanced protective autophagy may provide a new therapeutic strategy for glioblastoma.
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