Osteosarcoma is the most common primary malignant bone tumor, occurring mainly in children and adolescents, and survival largely depends on their response to chemotherapy. However, the risk of relapse and adverse outcomes is still high. We investigated the synergistic anti-cancer effects of ionizing radiation combined with arsenic trioxide (ATO) and the mechanisms underlying apoptosis or autophagy induced by combined radiation and ATO treatment in human osteosarcoma cells. We found that exposure to radiation increased the population of HOS cells in the G2/M phase within 12 h in a time-dependent manner. Radiation combined with ATO induced a significantly prolonged G2/M arrest, consequently enhancing cell death. Furthermore, combined treatment resulted in enhanced ROS generation compared to treatment with ATO or radiation alone. The enhanced cytotoxic effect of combined treatment occurred from the increased induction of autophagy and apoptosis through inhibition of the PI3K/Akt signaling pathway in HOS cells. The combined treatment of HOS cells pretreated with Z-VAD, 3-MA or PEG-catalase resulted in a significant reduction of cytotoxicity. In addition, G2/M arrest and ROS generation could be involved in the underlying mechanisms. The data suggest that a combination of radiation and ATO could be a new potential therapeutic strategy for the treatment of osteosarcoma.

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