Targeting the extrinsic apoptosis signaling pathway for cancer therapy

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2011 Aug;60(8):1173-80. doi: 10.1007/s00262-011-1008-4. Epub 2011 Apr 6.


The extrinsic apoptosis pathway is triggered by the binding of death ligands of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) family to their appropriate death receptors (DRs) on the cell surface. One TNF family member, TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL or Apo2L), seems to preferentially cause apoptosis of transformed cells and can be systemically administered in the absence of severe toxicity. Therefore, there has been enthusiasm for the use of TRAIL or agonist antibodies to the TRAIL DR4 and DR5 in cancer therapy. Nonetheless, many cancer cells are very resistant to TRAIL apoptosis in vitro. Therefore, there is much interest in identifying compounds that can be combined with TRAIL to amplify its apoptotic effects. In this review, I will provide a brief overview of apoptosis signaling by TRAIL and discuss apoptosis-sensitizing agents, focusing mainly on the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib (VELCADE) and some novel sensitizers that we have recently identified. Alternative ways to administer TRAIL or DR agonist antibodies as therapeutic agents will also be described. Finally, I will discuss some of the gaps in our understanding of TRAIL apoptosis signaling and suggest some research directions that may provide additional information for optimizing the targeting of the extrinsic apoptosis pathway for future cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis / immunology*
  • Boronic Acids / pharmacology
  • Boronic Acids / therapeutic use
  • Bortezomib
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Proteasome Inhibitors
  • Pyrazines / pharmacology
  • Pyrazines / therapeutic use
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / immunology
  • Signal Transduction / immunology
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / agonists
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / therapeutic use*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Boronic Acids
  • Proteasome Inhibitors
  • Pyrazines
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • Bortezomib