Molecular mechanisms and functions of pyroptosis in inflammation and antitumor immunity

Mol Cell. 2021 Nov 18;81(22):4579-4590. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.09.003. Epub 2021 Sep 24.


Canonically, gasdermin D (GSDMD) cleavage by caspase-1 through inflammasome signaling triggers immune cell pyroptosis (ICP) as a host defense against pathogen infection. However, cancer cell pyroptosis (CCP) was recently discovered to be activated by distinct molecular mechanisms in which GSDMB, GSDMC, and GSDME, rather than GSDMD, are the executioners. Moreover, instead of inflammatory caspases, apoptotic caspases and granzymes are required for gasdermin protein cleavage to induce CCP. Sufficient accumulation of protease-cleaved gasdermin proteins is the prerequisite for CCP. Inflammation induced by ICP or CCP results in diametrically opposite effects on antitumor immunity because of the differential duration and released cellular contents, leading to contrary effects on therapeutic outcomes. Here, we focus on the distinct mechanisms of ICP and CCP and discuss the roles of ICP and CCP in inflammation and antitumor immunity, representing actionable targets.

Keywords: Antitumor immunity; Cancer cell pyroptosis; Gasdermin; Immune cell pyroptosis; Inflammation; Pyroptosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Immune System
  • Inflammasomes
  • Inflammation*
  • Interleukin-18 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-1beta / metabolism
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / metabolism*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Phosphate-Binding Proteins / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Proteolysis
  • Pyroptosis*
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • GSDMD protein, human
  • IL1B protein, human
  • Inflammasomes
  • Interleukin-18
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • Intracellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Phosphate-Binding Proteins
  • Caspases