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Carcinogenesis. 2011 Oct;32(10):1450-8. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgr135. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

Combined inhibition of DNA methyltransferase and histone deacetylase restores caspase-8 expression and sensitizes SCLC cells to TRAIL.

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Division of Toxicology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is a promising drug for the treatment of tumors; however, a number of cancer cells are resistant to this cytokine. Among the mechanisms of resistance of small cell lung carcinomas (SCLCs) to TRAIL is the lack of caspase-8 expression. Although methylation of the caspase-8 promoter has been suggested as the main mechanism of caspase-8 silencing, we showed that reduction of the enzymes involved in DNA methylation, DNA methyltransferases (DNMT) 1, 3a and 3b, was not sufficient to significantly restore caspase-8 expression in SCLC cells, signifying that other mechanisms are involved in caspase-8 silencing. We found that combination of the DNMT inhibitor decitabine with an inhibitor of histone deacetylase (HDAC) significantly increased caspase-8 expression in SCLC cells at the RNA and protein levels. Among all studied HDAC inhibitors, valproic acid (VPA) and CI-994 showed prolonged effects on histone acetylation, while combination with decitabine produced the most prominent effects on caspase-8 re-expression. Moreover, a significant reduction of survivin and cIAP-1 proteins level was observed after treatment with VPA. The combination of two drugs sensitized SCLC cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, involving mitochondrial apoptotic pathway and was accompanied by Bid cleavage, activation of Bax, and release of cytochrome c. Both initiator caspase-8 and -9 were required for the sensitization of SCLC cells to TRAIL. Thus, efficient restoration of caspase-8 expression in SCLC cells is achieved when a combination of DNMT and HDAC inhibitors is used, suggesting a combination of decitabine and VPA or CI-994 as a potential treatment for sensitization of SCLC cells lacking caspase-8 to TRAIL.

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