Apoptotic pathways and therapy resistance in human malignancies

Adv Cancer Res. 2005;94:143-96. doi: 10.1016/S0065-230X(05)94004-9.


Apoptosis and necrosis are two morphologically distinct forms of cell death that are important for maintaining of cellular homeostasis. Almost all agents can provoke either response when applied to cells; however, the duration of treatment and the dose of the used agents determine which type of death (apoptosis or necrosis) is initiated. The response of tumors to chemo-, radio-, and hormone therapy or to treatment with biologically active agents may depend at least in part on the propensity of these tumors to undergo cell death. Some tumors, e.g., leukemias, small cell lung cancer, and seminomas, respond quickly to first-line therapy; this fast response is thought to result from induction of apoptosis. Solid tumors, on the other hand, usually respond slowly and less effectively, with cell death characterized not only by apoptosis but also by necrosis, or mitotic catastrophe. It is likely that resistance of tumors to treatment might be associated with defects in, or dysregulation of, different steps of the apoptotic pathways. Several attempts were undertaken to use the knowledge of these defects to design new drugs, which might either activate or re-activate the apoptotic machinery of tumor cells. Here we discuss the apoptotic pathways and their role in therapy resistance of human malignancies. Although such studies are still in progress, they offer great promise for future cancer therapy. We hope that some of these agents will turn out to be valuable additions to the future therapeutic arsenal, which will most probably include a combination of conventional cytotoxic drugs and molecular target-based pro-apoptotic drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents