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Mol Cancer Res. 2009 Nov;7(11):1835-44. doi: 10.1158/1541-7786.MCR-09-0244. Epub 2009 Oct 20.

Repeated treatment with subtoxic doses of TRAIL induces resistance to apoptosis through its death receptors in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells.

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Division of Therapeutic Proteins, Office of Biotechnology Products, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Recombinant human tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (rhTRAIL) is being evaluated clinically in treating various malignancies. Previous studies have shown that repeated application of high doses of rhTRAIL results in a subpopulation of parental cells that is unresponsive to the death ligand. However, it is not clear whether TRAIL-sensitive cancer cells could acquire resistance to TRAIL treatment. Here, we found that MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells, which are highly sensitive to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, became resistant to TRAIL killing after a prolonged exposure to subtoxic doses of rhTRAIL. The resulting TRAIL-resistant cells were cross-resistant to antibodies against its death receptors (DR4 and DR5); however, they retained sensitivity to several clinically relevant chemotherapies. Surface expression of DR4 and DR5 was significantly reduced in the selected cells, resulting in failure in death-inducing signaling complex formation and caspase activation. In addition, real-time PCR analysis revealed an upregulation in multiple apoptosis-regulator genes, including c-FLIP, Stat5a, and Stat5b. Inhibition of Janus-activated kinase, an upstream activator of signal transducer and activator of transcription 5 (Stat5), or knockdown of Stat5 itself partially restored cellular sensitivity to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, suggesting that Stat5 signaling is also involved in the development of TRAIL resistance. Furthermore, we showed that acquired TRAIL resistance was effectively eliminated by combination with etoposide, doxorubicin, or paclitaxel. These results suggest that tumor cells could acquire resistance to TRAIL therapy especially when they are repeatedly exposed to low levels of the death ligand, highlighting the necessity of combination with therapies that target the resistance mechanisms.

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