Non-canonical kinase signaling by the death ligand TRAIL in cancer cells: discord in the death receptor family

Cell Death Differ. 2013 Jul;20(7):858-68. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2013.28. Epub 2013 Apr 12.


Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL)-based therapy is currently evaluated in clinical studies as a tumor cell selective pro-apoptotic approach. However, besides activating canonical caspase-dependent apoptosis by binding to TRAIL-specific death receptors, the TRAIL ligand can activate non-canonical cell survival or proliferation pathways in resistant tumor cells through the same death receptors, which is counterproductive for therapy. Even more, recent studies indicate metastases-promoting activity of TRAIL. In this review, the remarkable dichotomy in TRAIL signaling is highlighted. An overview of the currently known mechanisms involved in non-canonical TRAIL signaling and the subsequent activation of various kinases is provided. These kinases include RIP1, IκB/ NF-κB, MAPK p38, JNK, ERK1/2, MAP3K TAK1, PKC, PI3K/Akt and Src. The functional consequences of their activation, often being stimulation of tumor cell survival and in some cases enhancement of their invasive behavior, are discussed. Interestingly, the non-canonical responses triggered by TRAIL in resistant tumor cells resemble that of TRAIL-induced signals in non-transformed cells. Better knowledge of the mechanism underlying the dichotomy in TRAIL receptor signaling may provide markers for selecting patients who will likely benefit from TRAIL-based therapy and could provide a rationalized basis for combination therapies with TRAIL death receptor-targeting drugs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • I-kappa B Kinase / physiology
  • Mice
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases / physiology
  • NF-kappa B / physiology
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Phosphotransferases / physiology*
  • Receptors, Death Domain / drug effects
  • Receptors, Death Domain / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / drug effects
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / physiology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • NF-kappa B
  • Receptors, Death Domain
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand
  • Phosphotransferases
  • I-kappa B Kinase
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Kinases