Rapamycin induces apoptosis of JN-DSRCT-1 cells by increasing the Bax : Bcl-xL ratio through concurrent mechanisms dependent and independent of its mTOR inhibitory activity

Oncogene. 2005 May 5;24(20):3348-57. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1208471.


Rapamycin, a complex macrolide and potent fungicide, immunosuppressant and anticancer agent, is a highly specific inhibitor of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR). Rapamycin has been shown to induce G1-phase cell cycle arrest in diverse tumor cell types, and its derivatives RAD001 and CCI-779 are currently in phase I and phase II clinical trials, respectively, as anticancer agents. In this study, we show that rapamycin induced the apoptotic death of JN-DSRCT-1 cells, the only available in vitro model for Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumors (DSRCT), while having only minor effects on their cell cycle. Rapamycin induced apoptosis by increasing the Bax : Bcl-xL ratio as a consequence of the concomitant downregulation of Bcl-xL and upregulation of Bax, both at the post-transcriptional level. Rapamycin also downregulated the levels of EWS/WT1, the fusion protein characteristic of DSRCT. Transient transfection studies using kinase-dead and rapamycin-resistant forms of mTOR demonstrated that only the downregulation of Bcl-xL was caused by the mTOR inhibitory action of rapamycin, which prevented cap-dependent translation initiation, whereas Bax upregulation was induced by rapamycin through a mechanism independent of its mTOR inhibitory activity. Moreover, rapamycin treatment downregulated the mRNA and protein levels of the 26S p44.5 proteasome subunit, suggesting the involvement of the proteasome complex in the mechanisms of rapamycin-induced apoptosis. Treatment of JN-DSRCT-1 cells with MG-132, a proteasome specific inhibitor, also resulted in the induction of apoptosis through a similar increase in the Bax : Bcl-xL ratio specifically caused by inhibiting Bax degradation and turnover. These results suggested that rapamycin induces apoptosis by preventing the degradation of the Bax protein by the proteasome, and that this process is independent of mTOR inhibition. Furthermore, these results strongly support the introduction of the use of rapamycin as a cytotoxic agent for the treatment of DSRCT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Down-Regulation
  • G1 Phase
  • Humans
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacology
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology*
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Transfection
  • Up-Regulation
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • bcl-X Protein


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • BAX protein, human
  • BCL2L1 protein, human
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • RNA, Messenger
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • bcl-X Protein
  • Protein Kinases
  • MTOR protein, human
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex
  • Sirolimus