Mcl-1 is critical for survival in a subgroup of non-small-cell lung cancer cell lines

Oncogene. 2011 Apr 21;30(16):1963-8. doi: 10.1038/onc.2010.559. Epub 2010 Dec 6.


Non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most deadly type of cancer in the United States and worldwide. Although new therapy is available, the survival rate of NSCLC patients remains low. One hallmark of cancer cells is defects in the apoptotic cell death program. In this study, we investigate the role of B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) family members Bcl-2, Bcl-x(L) and Mcl-1, known to regulate cell survival and death, in a panel of fourteen NSCLC cell lines. NSCLC cell lines express high levels of Mcl-1 and Bcl-x(L), but not Bcl-2. Silencing the expression of Mcl-1 with small interfering RNA (siRNA) oligonucleotides potently killed a subgroup of NSCLC cell lines. In contrast, Bcl-x(L) siRNA had no effect in these lines unless Mcl-1 siRNA was also introduced. Interestingly, high MCL1 to BCL-xl messenger RNA determines whether the cells depend on Mcl-1 for survival. We further investigated the role of Mcl-1 in NSCLC cells using a Mcl-1-dependent cell line, H23. The expression of a complementary DNA containing only the coding region of MCL1 rescued H23 cells from the toxicity of a 3' untranslated region (UTR) targeting Mcl-1 siRNA but not a siRNA targeting the coding region of MCL1. Furthermore, we show that Mcl-1 sequesters the BH3-only protein Noxa and Bim and the apoptotic effector Bak. Not surprisingly, Noxa, Bim, or Bak knockdown partially rescued H23 cells from toxicity mediated by Mcl-1 siRNA to different degrees. Collectively, our results indicate that targeting Mcl-1 may improve therapy for a subset of NSCLC patients.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • RNA Interference
  • RNA, Small Interfering


  • RNA, Small Interfering