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J Invest Dermatol. 2011 Feb;131(2):509-17. doi: 10.1038/jid.2010.326. Epub 2010 Nov 11.

Axl promotes cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma survival through negative regulation of pro-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members.

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Centre for Cutaneous Research, Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science, Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK.


Expression of Axl, a receptor tyrosine kinase, is increased in cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Examination of a series of cutaneous SCC tumors revealed positive phospho-Akt (P-Akt) staining accompanied by weak TUNEL staining in Axl-positive tumors, suggesting an anti-apoptotic role for Axl in SCC survival. The role of Axl in UV-induced apoptosis was investigated in a cutaneous SCC cell line using retroviral short hairpin RNA sequences enabling stable Axl knock-down. We show that, although Axl knock-down has no effect on cell proliferation, it sensitizes cells to UV-induced apoptosis through increased activation of the pro-apoptotic protein Bad, a change in the conformation of Bax and Bak, release of cytochrome c into the cytosol, and activation of caspases. These events are accompanied by faster Akt dephosphorylation in UV-treated Axl knock-down cells and correlate with the degree of Axl knock-down. Treatment with the pan-caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk partially rescued cells from UV-induced apoptosis but did not affect Bid cleavage or cytochrome c release, suggesting that cells die via the mitochondrial-mediated pathway. Thus, Axl confers resistance of SCC cells to apoptosis and displays potential as a target for therapeutic intervention in cutaneous SCC.

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