Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma is a metabolic regulator involved in maintaining glucose and fatty acid homeostasis. Besides its metabolic functions, the receptor has also been implicated in tumorigenesis. Ligands of PPAR gamma have been found to induce apoptosis in a variety of tumor cell lines including lymphomas. However, apoptosis induction may not depend on the receptor since high doses of PPAR gamma agonists are required for this process. Using cells containing or lacking PPAR gamma, we reported previously that PPAR gamma attenuates apoptosis induced by growth factor withdrawal in a murine lymphocytic cell line via a receptor dependent mechanism. PPAR gamma exerts this effect by enhancing ability of cells to maintain their mitochondrial membrane potential during growth factor deprivation. In the current study, we demonstrate that PPAR gamma is expressed in human primary T lymphoma tissues and activation of PPAR gamma protects cells from serum starvation-induced apoptosis in human T lymphoma cell lines. Further, we show that the survival effect of PPAR gamma is mediated through its actions on cellular metabolic activities. In serum-deprived cells, PPAR gamma attenuates the decline in cellular ATP and suppresses accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in favor of cell survival. Moreover, PPAR gamma regulates ROS through its coordinated transcriptional control of proteins and enzymes involved in ROS production and scavenge. Introduction of PPAR gamma into a PPAR gamma-null T lymphoma cell line leads to increased cell survival. Meanwhile, knocking down the receptor in a PPAR gamma-positive lymphoma cell line reduces cell survival rate. Our studies identify cell survival promotion as a novel activity of PPAR gamma and suggest that high expression of PPAR gamma in lymphoma cells confers on them a survival advantage that renders cells resistant to growth factor and nutrient deprivation. These findings highlight the need for further investigation into the role of PPAR gamma in lymphoma and other types of cancer prior to widespread use of its agonists as anticancer therapeutics.

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