Cell death & disease

The ratio of Mcl-1 and Noxa determines ABT737 resistance in squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.

PMID 25210795


Tumour progression and therapy resistance in squamous cell carcinoma of the skin (SCC) is strongly associated with resistance to intrinsic mitochondrial apoptosis. We thus investigated the role of various anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins for apoptosis protection in SCC using the BH3 agonist ABT737 that can overcome multidomain Bcl-2 protein protection. Sensitive SCC cells underwent rapid loss of mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), subsequent apoptosis concomitant with caspase-3 activation and an early release of mitochondria-derived cytochrome c and smac/DIABLO. In contrast, ABT737 resistance in subsets of SCC cells was not explained by XIAP, important for protection from DR-induced apoptosis in SCC. Of note, ABT737 did not prime SCC cells to DR-induced apoptosis. Interestingly, the ratio of Mcl-1 and Noxa determined sensitivity to ABT737: loss of Mcl-1 rendered resistant cells sensitive to ABT737, whereas loss of Noxa promoted resistance in sensitive cells. In line, suppression of Mcl-1 by the pan-Bcl-2 inhibitor Obatoclax or overexpression of Noxa rendered resistant SCC cells sensitive to BH3 mimetics. Our data indicate that targeting of the Mcl-1/Noxa axis is important to overcome resistance to mitochondrial apoptosis in SCC. Therefore, combination treatment of ABT737 or derivatives with Mcl-1 inhibitors, or inducers of Noxa, may represent a novel option of targeted therapy in metastatic SCC of the skin.

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