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J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc. 2002 Dec;7(1):27-35.

Life and death signaling pathways contributing to skin cancer.

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  • 1Loyola University Medical Center, Department of Pathology, Skin Cancer Research Laboratory, Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Maywood, IL 60153, USA.


Apoptosis is generally regarded as a critical regulatory event in the development of malignancies in several different organ systems (Thompson, 1995). Initially, oncologists focused on alterations in rates of proliferation and cell cycle kinetics, but more recently an emphasis on apoptosis has dominated the fight against cancer (Evan and Vousden, 2001). As approximately 1,000,000 individuals in the U.S.A. develop skin cancer each year, it is important to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that govern cell survival and cell death in the epidermis (Miller and Weinstock, 1994). Moreover, given that most skin cancers occur on sun-exposed skin, the pro-apoptotic and antiapoptotic response of keratinocytes (KC) to UV light is of particular relevance to the development of skin cancer (Brash et al, 1996). Whereas both squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC) arise from epidermal KC, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the natural history of their development, their underlying molecular pathogenesis, and potential involvement of antiapoptotic pathways are significantly different. Nonetheless, as pointed out later in the text, significant progress is being made in our understanding of the pathophysiology of these relatively common epithelial-cell-derived neoplasms. In this review we will explore four topics: first, a review of the life and death signaling pathways operative in normal human skin that prevents premature apoptosis of KC with an emphasis on nuclear factor kappaB (NFkappaB) survival signals; second, the molecular pathways that are engaged and regulate apoptosis after normal KC are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light; third, the apoptotic resistant mechanisms that premalignant and malignant KC utilize to avoid cell death; fourth, therapeutic strategies that can render malignant cells more susceptible to apoptosis with an emphasis on a death pathway mediated by the death ligand TRAIL.

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