Targeting pro-apoptotic trail receptors sensitizes HeLa cervical cancer cells to irradiation-induced apoptosis

John H Maduro, Elisabeth G E de Vries, Gert-Jan Meersma, Brigitte M T Hougardy, Ate G J van der Zee, Steven de Jong
International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics 2008 October 1, 72 (2): 543-52

PURPOSE: To investigate the potential of irradiation in combination with drugs targeting the tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) death receptor (DR)4 and DR5 and their mechanism of action in a cervical cancer cell line.

METHODS AND MATERIALS: Recombinant human TRAIL (rhTRAIL) and the agonistic antibodies against DR4 and DR5 were added to irradiated HeLa cells. The effect was evaluated with apoptosis and cytotoxicity assays and at the protein level. Membrane receptor expression was measured with flow cytometry. Small-interfering RNA against p53, DR4, and DR5 was used to investigate their function on the combined effect.

RESULTS: rhTRAIL and the agonistic DR4 and DR5 antibodies strongly enhanced 10-Gy-induced apoptosis. This extra effect was 22%, 23%, and 29% for rhTRAIL, DR4, and DR5, respectively. Irradiation increased p53 expression and increased the membrane expression of DR5 and DR4. p53 suppression, as well as small-interfering RNA against DR5, resulted in a significant downregulation of DR5 membrane expression but did not affect apoptosis induced by irradiation and rhTRAIL. After small-interfering RNA against DR4, rhTRAIL-induced apoptosis and the additive effect of irradiation on rhTRAIL-induced apoptosis were abrogated, implicating an important role for DR4 in apoptosis induced through irradiation in combination with rhTRAIL.

CONCLUSION: Irradiation-induced apoptosis is strongly enhanced by targeting the pro-apoptotic TRAIL receptors DR4 or DR5. Irradiation results in a p53-dependent increase in DR5 membrane expression. The sensitizing effect of rhTRAIL on irradiation in the HeLa cell line is, however especially mediated through the DR4 receptor.

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