Thapsigargin sensitizes human melanoma cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis by up-regulation of TRAIL-R2 through the unfolded protein response

Carcinogenesis. 2007 Nov;28(11):2328-36. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgm173. Epub 2007 Jul 25.


We have previously reported that sensitivity of melanoma cells to tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL)-induced apoptosis is largely correlated with the levels of expression of TRAIL death receptors, in particular, TRAIL-R2 on the cell surface. However, fresh melanoma isolates and melanoma tissue sections express, in general, low levels of death receptors for TRAIL. We show in this study that the endoplasmic reticulum stress inducer, thapsigargin (TG), selectively up-regulated TRAIL-R2 and enhanced TRAIL-induced apoptosis in melanoma cells. However, the TRAIL-R2 pathway did not appear to be involved in induction of apoptosis by TG alone. Up-regulation of TRAIL-R2 appeared to be cooperatively mediated by the inositol-requiring transmembrane kinase and endonuclease 1alpha (IRE1alpha)- and activation of transcription factor (ATF)-6-signaling pathways of the unfolded protein response (UPR) and the transcription factor CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein-homologous protein (CHOP). The latter played a critical role in the initial phase of the increase in TRAIL-R2 as small interfering RNA (siRNA) knockdown of CHOP blocked up-regulation of TRAIL-R2 only at a relatively early stage (16 h) after exposure to TG. In contrast, IRE1alpha and ATF6 appeared to be crucial in maintaining the increased levels of TRAIL-R2 in that siRNA knockdown of IRE1alpha or ATF6 had no effect on the increase in TRAIL-R2 at the initial phase, but blocked TRAIL-R2 up-regulation at a relatively late stage (36 h). Our results indicate that modulation of the UPR may be useful in sensitizing melanoma cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis by up-regulation of TRAIL-R2.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects*
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Base Sequence
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • DNA Primers
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Protein Denaturation
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / physiology*
  • Thapsigargin / pharmacology*
  • Up-Regulation / drug effects*


  • DNA Primers
  • RNA, Small Interfering
  • Receptors, TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • TNFSF10 protein, human
  • Thapsigargin