Smac mimetics induce inflammation and necrotic tumour cell death by modulating macrophage activity

Cell Death Dis. 2013 Nov 14;4(11):e920. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2013.449.


Smac mimetics (SMs) comprise a class of small molecules that target members of the inhibitor of apoptosis family of pro-survival proteins, whose expression in cancer cells hinders the action of conventional chemotherapeutics. Herein, we describe the activity of SM83, a newly synthesised dimeric SM, in two cancer ascites models: athymic nude mice injected intraperitoneally with IGROV-1 human ovarian carcinoma cells and immunocompetent BALB/c mice injected with murine Meth A sarcoma cells. SM83 rapidly killed ascitic IGROV-1 and Meth A cells in vivo (prolonging mouse survival), but was ineffective against the same cells in vitro. IGROV-1 cells in nude mice were killed within the ascites by a non-apoptotic, tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-dependent mechanism. SM83 administration triggered a rapid inflammatory event characterised by host secretion of TNF, interleukin-1β and interferon-γ. This inflammatory response was associated with the reversion of the phenotype of tumour-associated macrophages from a pro-tumoural M2- to a pro-inflammatory M1-like state. SM83 treatment was also associated with a massive recruitment of neutrophils that, however, was not essential for the antitumoural activity of this compound. In BALB/c mice bearing Meth A ascites, SM83 treatment was in some cases curative, and these mice became resistant to a second injection of cancer cells, suggesting that they had developed an adaptive immune response. Altogether, these results indicate that, in vivo, SM83 modulates the immune system within the tumour microenvironment and, through its pro-inflammatory action, leads cancer cells to die by necrosis with the release of high-mobility group box-1. In conclusion, our work provides evidence that SMs could be more therapeutically active than expected by stimulating the immune system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biomimetic Materials / chemistry
  • Biomimetic Materials / pharmacology
  • Biomimetic Materials / therapeutic use
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / drug effects
  • Inflammation / chemically induced
  • Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins
  • Macrophages / drug effects*
  • Macrophages / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Necrosis / chemically induced*
  • Neutrophils / drug effects
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins