Mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (MSCs) can either suppress or promote tumors. We found previously that incubation of human bone marrow MSCs (hMSCs) with TNF-α upregulated multiple genes including TRAIL, which has cancer apoptotic activity. Here, we show that weekly infusions into mice of hMSCs preactivated with TNF-α inhibited the progression of lung tumors formed from MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells (MDA). In coculture, preactivated hMSCs induced apoptosis in MDA and several other TRAIL-sensitive cancer cell lines. TRAIL was further upregulated by apoptotic MDA cells in a TLR3-dependent manner; this feedforward cycle increased MDA cell apoptosis, and the chemotherapeutic drug doxorubicin had a synergistic effect. Also, activated hMSCs secreted DKK3 to suppress MDA cell cycling, leading to a decrease in β-catenin and cyclin D1/D3 and an increase in p21. Thus, culturing hMSCs with TNF-α enhances their tumor-suppressive properties and may represent a useful strategy to develop hMSC-based approaches for the treatment of cancer.
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