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Cancer Res. 1999 Oct 1;59(19):4848-56.

Apoptosis induced by vitamin D compounds in breast cancer cells is inhibited by Bcl-2 but does not involve known caspases or p53.

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Apoptosis Laboratory, Institute of Cancer Biology, Danish Cancer Society, Copenhagen.


The hormonally active form of vitamin D3, 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, and its two analogues, EB 1089 and CB 1093, are novel putative anticancer agents with an interesting profile of induction of growth inhibition, differentiation, and apoptosis in tumor cells. To study the signaling pathways mediating these events, we used two human breast cancer cell lines: MCF-7 cells, expressing a wild-type p53 tumor suppressor protein, and T47D cells, lacking a functional p53. Vitamin D compounds induced a growth arrest followed by apoptosis in both cell lines at concentrations ranging from 1 to 100 nM, indicating that p53 is not necessary for growth-inhibitory effects induced by vitamin D compounds. Surprisingly, apoptosis induced by these compounds occurred also independently of known caspases. Inhibition of caspase activation by overexpression of a cowpox-derived caspase inhibitor CrmA or by addition of inhibitory peptides acetyl-Asp-Glu-Val-Asp-aldehyde (200 microM), acetyl-Ile-Glu-Thr-Asp-aldehyde (50 microM), and Z-Val-Ala-D,L-Asp-fluoromethylketone (1 microM) showed no effect on the induction of growth arrest or apoptosis by vitamin D compounds under assay conditions in which apoptosis induced by TNF or staurosporine was effectively inhibited. Moreover, overexpression of caspase-3 in MCF-7 cells had no sensitizing effect to vitamin D compounds, and neither caspase-3-like protease activity nor cleavage of a caspase substrate poly(ADP)ribose polymerase was detected in lysates from apoptotic cells following the treatment with these compounds. Contrary to CrmA, overexpression of an antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2 in MCF-7 cells conferred a nearly complete protection from apoptosis induced by vitamin D compounds. Taken together, these data indicate that vitamin D compounds induce apoptosis via a novel caspase- and p53-independent pathway that can be inhibited by Bcl-2. This may prove useful in the treatment of tumors that are resistant to therapeutic agents that are dependent on the activation of p53 and/or caspases.

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