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Br J Cancer. 2004 Apr 19;90(8):1644-53.

Alpha-tocopheryl succinate and TRAIL selectively synergise in induction of apoptosis in human malignant mesothelioma cells.

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Department of Molecular Pathology and Innovative Therapies, Polytechnic University of Marche, 60131 Ancona, Italy.


Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is a fatal type of neoplasia with poor therapeutic prognosis, largely due to resistance to apoptosis. We investigated the apoptotic effect of alpha-tocopheryl succinate (alpha-TOS), a strong proapoptotic agent, in combination with the immunological apoptogen TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) on both MM and nonmalignant mesothelial cells, since MM cells show low susceptibility to the clinically intriguing TRAIL. All MM cell lines tested were sensitive to alpha-TOS-induced apoptosis, and exerted high sensitivity to TRAIL in the presence of subapoptotic doses of the vitamin E analogue. Neither TRAIL or alpha-TOS alone or in combination caused apoptosis in nonmalignant mesothelial cells. Isobologram analysis of the cytotoxicity assays revealed a synergistic interaction between the two agents in MM cells and their antagonistic effect in nonmalignant mesothelial cells. TRAIL-induced apoptosis and its augmentation by alpha-TOS were inhibited by the caspase-8 inhibitor Z-IETD-FMK and the pan-caspase inhibitor Z-VAD-FMK. Activation of caspase-8 was required to induce apoptosis, which was amplified by alpha-TOS via cytochrome c release following Bid cleavage, with ensuing activation of caspase-9. Enhancement of TRAIL-induced apoptosis in MM cells by alpha-TOS was also associated with upregulation of the TRAIL cognate death receptors DR4 and DR5. Our results show that alpha-TOS and TRAIL act in synergism to kill MM cells via mitochondrial pathway, and are nontoxic to nonmalignant mesothelial cells. These findings are indicative of a novel strategy for treatment of thus far fatal MM.

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