The TRAIL of oncogenes to apoptosis

Biofactors. Jul-Aug 2013;39(4):343-54. doi: 10.1002/biof.1112. Epub 2013 Jun 29.


Despite the significant advances in clinical research, surgical resection, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are still used as the primary method for cancer treatment. As compared to conventional therapies that often induce systemic toxicity and eventually contribute to tumor resistance, the TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) is a promising anticancer agent that selectively triggers apoptosis in various cancer cells by interacting with its proapoptotic receptors DR4 and KILLER/DR5, while sparing the normal surrounding tissue. The intensive studies of TRAIL signaling pathways over the past decade have provided clues for understanding the molecular mechanisms of TRAIL-induced apoptosis in carcinogenesis and identified an array of therapeutic responses elicited by TRAIL and its receptor agonists. Analysis of its activity at the molecular level has shown that TRAIL improves survival either as monotherapies or combinatorial therapies with other mediators of apoptosis or anticancer chemotherapy. Combinatorial treatments amplify the activities of anticancer agents and widen the therapeutic window by overcoming tumor resistance to apoptosis and driving cancer cells to self-destruction. Although TRAIL sensitivity varies widely depending on the cell type, nontransformed cells are largely resistant to death mediated by TRAIL Death Receptors (DRs). Genetic alterations in cancer can contribute in tumor progression and often play an important role in evasion of apoptosis by tumor cells. Remarkably, RAS, MYC and HER2 oncogenes have been shown to sensitise tumor cells to TRAIL induced cell death. Here, we summarise the cross-talk of oncogenic and apoptotic pathways and how they can be exploited toward efficient combinatorial therapeutic protocols.

Keywords: RAS oncogenes; TRAIL; apoptosis; cancer therapy; kinase inhibitors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis*
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Humans
  • MAP Kinase Signaling System
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Oncogenes*
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / pharmacology*
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / physiology
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand / therapeutic use


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • TNF-Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand