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Cancer Res. 2001 Jun 15;61(12):4864-72.

Fas-mediated apoptosis in neuroblastoma requires mitochondrial activation and is inhibited by FLICE inhibitor protein and Bcl-2.

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  • 1Laboratory of Pathology, National Cancer Institute, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.


Fas-mediated apoptosis proceeds though mitochondria-dependent or -independent pathways and is deficient in drug-resistant cells. Neuroblastoma, a common pediatric malignancy, often develops drug-resistance and has a silenced caspase 8 (FLICE) gene, which has been associated with Fas- and drug-resistance. We report that besides caspase 8, which was absent in approximately one-third of 26 neuroblastoma cases in this study, other proteins such as bcl-2 and FLICE-inhibitory protein (FLIP), are equally important in conferring Fas-resistance to neuroblastoma cells. Both bcl-2 and FLIP were frequently expressed in neuroblastoma tissues. Our in vitro studies showed that FLIP was recruited to the death-inducing signaling complex and interfered with the recruitment of caspase 8 in neuroblastoma cells. bcl-2 inhibited the activation of the mitochondria; but it also lowered the free cytoplasmic levels of caspase 8 by binding and sequestering it, thus acting through a novel antiapoptotic mechanism upstream of the mitochondria. In vitro down-regulation of bcl-2 with antisense oligonucleotides allowed the release of cytochrome c from mitochondria and the activation of caspases 8 and 3 upon Fas activation as well as sensitized neuroblastoma cells to Fas-mediated apoptosis. Down-regulation of FLIP had only a modest apoptotic effect because of the coexistent mitochondrial block. However, combined treatment with bcl-2 and FLIP antisense oligonucleotides had a statistically significant synergistic effect reversing Fas-resistance in neuroblastoma cells in vitro. These data indicate that Fas-mediated apoptosis in neuroblastoma cells is mitochondria-dependent and inhibited both at the mitochondrial level and at the level of caspase 8 activation. Thus, gene-targeting therapies for bcl-2 and FLIP may reverse Fas-resistance and prove useful in the treatment of drug-resistant neuroblastomas.

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