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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2005 Jan;46(1):358-66.

Human retinoblastoma cells are resistant to apoptosis induced by death receptors: role of caspase-8 gene silencing.

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  • 1Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



Fas ligand (FasL) and TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL)/Apo2L are members of the TNFalpha family that can trigger apoptosis in susceptible cells via respective death receptors (DRs). FasL cross-links its receptor Fas, resulting in recruitment and proteolytic activation of caspase-8, which initiates the downstream apoptotic cascade. TRAIL signals through its receptors DR4 and DR5, which can activate caspase-8 as well. This study was undertaken to investigate the functional status of the FasL and TRAIL apoptotic pathways in retinoblastoma (Rb) cells.


The human Rb cell lines Y79 and WERI-Rb1 were evaluated for their response to the Fas cross-linking antibody CH11 and recombinant TRAIL, as well as for cell surface presence and mutational status of Fas, DR4, and DR5 by flow cytometry and genomic DNA sequencing, respectively. The expression of caspase-8 and its inhibitor FLIP, as well as their recruitment to the DR signaling complex were studied by immunoblot analysis.


Rb cells express Fas, DR4, and DR5 on their surfaces, yet were resistant to DR-mediated apoptosis. This was not due to DR mutations or secretion of the soluble decoy Fas, antiapoptotic NF-kappaB activity, or FLIP overexpression, but to the absence of caspase-8 expression. The demethylating agent 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine restored caspase-8 expression and sensitivity to DR-mediated apoptosis.


Rb cells are resistant to DR-mediated apoptosis because of a deficiency in caspase-8 expression secondary to epigenetic gene silencing by overmethylation. The data help delineate the apoptotic pathways in Rb cells and suggest that the combination of demethylating agents with DR-activating modalities, such as TRAIL receptor monoclonal antibodies, may benefit patients with retinoblastoma.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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