Death Receptors and Their Ligands in Inflammatory Disease and Cancer

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2020 Sep 1;12(9):a036384. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a036384.


On binding to their cognate ligands, death receptors can initiate a cascade of events that can result in two distinct outcomes: gene expression and cell death. The study of three different death receptor-ligand systems, the tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-TNF receptor 1 (TNFR1), the CD95L-CD95, and the TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL)-TRAIL-R1/2 system, has drawn the attention of generations of scientists over the past 50 years. This scientific journey, as often happens in science, has been anything but a straight line to success and discoveries in this field were often made by serendipity, catching the scientists by surprise. However, as Louis Pasteur pointed out, luck prefers the prepared mind. It is therefore not surprising that the most impactful discovery of the field to date, the fact that TNF inhibition serves as an effective treatment for several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, has been like this. Luckily, the scientists who made this discovery were prepared and, most importantly, determined to harness their discovery for therapeutic benefit. Today's research on these death receptor-ligand systems has led to the discovery of a causal link between cell death induced by a variety of these systems and inflammation. In this review, we explain why we predict that therapeutic exploitation of this discovery may profoundly impact the future treatment of inflammatory disease and cancer.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism*
  • Ligands
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Death Domain / metabolism*
  • Tumor Necrosis Factors / metabolism


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Death Domain
  • Tumor Necrosis Factors