Bcl-2 antisense therapy for cancer: the art of persuading tumour cells to commit suicide

Apoptosis. 1998 Mar;3(2):67-74. doi: 10.1023/a:1009636722713.


The Bcl-2 oncoprotein is a potent inhibitor of apoptosis induced by numerous physiological and pathological stimuli, and uncontrolled cell survival due to Bcl-2 overexpression has been shown to contribute to tumour formation and the development of autoimmune diseases. The multifunctional action of Bcl-2 is thought to prevent activation of the ced3/caspase-3 subfamily of ICE proteases, resulting in suppression of the death effector machinery. Since most conventional anti-cancer agents act by triggering this suicide pathway, overexpression of Bcl-2 in cancer cells has also been associated with drug resistance. The antisense approach to inhibition of gene expression relies on the binding of small synthetic oligodeoxynucleotides to a complementary base sequence on a target mRNA. As a consequence, expression of the corresponding gene is downregulated due to endonuclease-mediated hydrolysis of the mRNA strand, or to translational arrest arising from sterie hindrance by the RNA:DNA heterodimer. Since these mechanisms of action differ from those exerted by conventional anticancer agents, antisense oligodeoxynucleotides designed to specifically inhibit bcl-2 gene expression hold great promise as agents that could overcome clinical drug resistance, and improve the treatment outcome of many hitherto incurable cancer diseases.