Molecular determinants of immunogenic cell death elicited by anticancer chemotherapy

Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2011 Mar;30(1):61-9. doi: 10.1007/s10555-011-9273-4.


The success of some chemo- and radiotherapeutic regimens relies on the induction of immunogenic tumor cell death and on the induction of an anticancer immune response. Cells succumbing to immunogenic cell death undergo specific changes in their surface characteristics and release pro-immunogenic factors according to a defined spatiotemporal pattern. This stimulates antigen presenting cells such as dendritic cells to efficiently take up tumor antigens, process them, and cross-prime cytotoxic T lymphocytes, thus eliciting a tumor-specific cognate immune response. Such a response can also target therapy-resistant tumor (stem) cells, thereby leading, at least in some instances, to tumor eradication. In this review, we shed some light on the molecular identity of the factors that are required for cell death to be perceived as immunogenic. We discuss the intriguing observations that the most abundant endoplasmic reticulum protein, calreticulin, the most abundant intracellular metabolite, ATP, and the most abundant non-histone chromatin-binding protein, HMGB1, can determine whether cell death is immunogenic as they appear on the surface or in the microenvironment of dying cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cell Death / drug effects*
  • Cell Death / immunology
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / immunology


  • Antineoplastic Agents