Snail and slug mediate radioresistance and chemoresistance by antagonizing p53-mediated apoptosis and acquiring a stem-like phenotype in ovarian cancer cells

Stem Cells. 2009 Sep;27(9):2059-68. doi: 10.1002/stem.154.


The transcriptional repressors Snail and Slug contribute to cancer progression by mediating epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), which results in tumor cell invasion and metastases. We extend this current understanding to demonstrate their involvement in the development of resistance to radiation and paclitaxel. The process is orchestrated through the acquisition of a novel subset of gene targets that is repressed under conditions of stress, effectively inactivating p53-mediated apoptosis, while another subset of targets continues to mediate EMT. Repressive activities are complemented by a concurrent derepression of specific genes resulting in the acquisition of stem cell-like characteristics. Such cells are bestowed with three critical capabilities, namely EMT, resistance to p53-mediated apoptosis, and a self-renewal program, that together define the functionality and survival of metastatic cancer stem cells. EMT provides a mechanism of escape to a new, less adverse niche; resistance to apoptosis ensures cell survival in conditions of stress in the primary tumor; whereas acquisition of "stemness" ensures generation of the critical tumor mass required for progression of micrometastases to macrometastases. Our findings, besides achieving considerable expansion of the inventory of direct genes targets, more importantly demonstrate that such elegant cooperative modulation of gene regulation mediated by Snail and Slug is critical for a cancer cell to acquire stem cell characteristics toward resisting radiotherapy- or chemotherapy-mediated cellular stress, and this may be a determinative aspect of aggressive cancer metastases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / genetics
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm / physiology*
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / physiology
  • Genome, Human / genetics
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / genetics
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Snail Family Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • SNAI1 protein, human
  • Snail Family Transcription Factors
  • Transcription Factors
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53