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Radiat Oncol. 2012 Aug 8;7:135. doi: 10.1186/1748-717X-7-135.

Association of anti-apoptotic Mcl-1L isoform expression with radioresistance of oral squamous carcinoma cells.

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Teni Lab, Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC), Tata Memorial Centre, Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, 410210, India.



Oral cancer is a common cancer and a major health problem in the Indian subcontinent. At our laboratory Mcl-1, an anti-apoptotic member of the Bcl-2 family has been demonstrated to be overexpressed in oral cancers and to predict outcome in oral cancer patients treated with definitive radiotherapy. To study the role of Mcl-1 isoforms in radiation response of oral squamous carcinoma cells (OSCC), we investigated in the present study, the association of Mcl-1 isoform expression with radiosensitivity of OSCC, using siRNA strategy.


The time course expression of Mcl-1 splice variants (Mcl-1L, Mcl-1S & Mcl-1ES) was studied by RT-PCR, western blotting & immunofluorescence, post-irradiation in oral cell lines [immortalized FBM (radiosensitive) and tongue cancer AW8507 & AW13516 (radioresistant)]of relatively differing radiosensitivities. The effect of Mcl-1L knockdown alone or in combination with ionizing radiation (IR) on cell proliferation, apoptosis & clonogenic survival, was investigated in AW8507 & AW13516 cells. Further the expression of Mcl-1L protein was assessed in radioresistant sublines generated by fractionated ionizing radiation (FIR).


Three to six fold higher expression of anti-apoptotic Mcl-1L versus pro-apoptotic Mcl-1S was observed at mRNA & protein levels in all cell lines, post-irradiation. Sustained high levels of Mcl-1L, downregulation of pro-apoptotic Bax & Bak and a significant (P < 0.05) reduction in apoptosis was observed in the more radioresistant AW8507, AW13516 versus FBM cells, post-IR. The ratios of anti to pro-apoptotic proteins were high in AW8507 as compared to FBM. Treatment with Mcl-1L siRNA alone or in combination with IR significantly (P < 0.01) increased apoptosis viz. 17.3% (IR), 25.3% (siRNA) and 46.3% (IR plus siRNA) and upregulated pro-apoptotic Bax levels in AW8507 cells. Combination of siRNA & IR treatment significantly (P < 0.05) reduced cell proliferation and clonogenic survival of radioresistant AW8507 & AW13516 cells, suggesting a synergistic effect of the Mcl-1L siRNA with IR on radiosensitivity. Interestingly, during the development of radioresistant sublines using FIR, high expression of Mcl-1L was observed.


Our studies suggest that Mcl-1L isoform has an important role in the survival and radioresistance of OSCC and may be a promising therapeutic target in oral cancers.

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