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Concept: Programmed cell death


HIV-1 blocks apoptosis, programmed cell death, an innate defense of cells against viral invasion. However, apoptosis can be selectively reactivated in HIV-infected cells by chemical agents that interfere with HIV-1 gene expression. We studied two globally used medicines, the topical antifungal ciclopirox and the iron chelator deferiprone, for their effect on apoptosis in HIV-infected H9 cells and in peripheral blood mononuclear cells infected with clinical HIV-1 isolates. Both medicines activated apoptosis preferentially in HIV-infected cells, suggesting that the drugs mediate escape from the viral suppression of defensive apoptosis. In infected H9 cells, ciclopirox and deferiprone enhanced mitochondrial membrane depolarization, initiating the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis to execution, as evidenced by caspase-3 activation, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase proteolysis, DNA degradation, and apoptotic cell morphology. In isolate-infected peripheral blood mononuclear cells, ciclopirox collapsed HIV-1 production to the limit of viral protein and RNA detection. Despite prolonged monotherapy, ciclopirox did not elicit breakthrough. No viral re-emergence was observed even 12 weeks after drug cessation, suggesting elimination of the proviral reservoir. Tests in mice predictive for cytotoxicity to human epithelia did not detect tissue damage or activation of apoptosis at a ciclopirox concentration that exceeded by orders of magnitude the concentration causing death of infected cells. We infer that ciclopirox and deferiprone act via therapeutic reclamation of apoptotic proficiency (TRAP) in HIV-infected cells and trigger their preferential elimination. Perturbations in viral protein expression suggest that the antiretroviral activity of both drugs stems from their ability to inhibit hydroxylation of cellular proteins essential for apoptosis and for viral infection, exemplified by eIF5A. Our findings identify ciclopirox and deferiprone as prototypes of selectively cytocidal antivirals that eliminate viral infection by destroying infected cells. A drug-based drug discovery program, based on these compounds, is warranted to determine the potential of such agents in clinical trials of HIV-infected patients.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Cell, Bacteria, Virus, Apoptosis, Programmed cell death


In eukaryotes, the classical form of programmed cell death (PCD) is apoptosis, which has as its specific characteristics DNA fragmentation and membrane depolarization. In Escherichia coli a different PCD system has been reported. It is mediated by the toxin-antitoxin system module mazEF. The E. coli mazEF module is one of the most thoroughly studied toxin-antitoxin systems. mazF encodes a stable toxin, MazF, and mazE encodes a labile antitoxin, MazE, which prevents the lethal effect of MazF. mazEF-mediated cell death is a population phenomenon requiring the quorum-sensing pentapeptide NNWNN designated Extracellular Death Factor (EDF). mazEF is triggered by several stressful conditions, including severe damage to the DNA. Here, using confocal microscopy and FACS analysis, we show that under conditions of severe DNA damage, the triggered mazEF-mediated cell death pathway leads to the inhibition of a second cell death pathway. The latter is an apoptotic-like death (ALD); ALD is mediated by recA and lexA. The mazEF-mediated pathway reduces recA mRNA levels. Based on these results, we offer a molecular model for the maintenance of an altruistic characteristic in cell populations. In our model, the ALD pathway is inhibited by the altruistic EDF-mazEF-mediated death pathway.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Genetics, Bacteria, DNA repair, Escherichia coli, Prokaryote, Programmed cell death


Unexplained intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) may be a consequence of placental insufficiency; however, its etiology is not fully understood. We surmised that defective placentation in IUGR dysregulates cellular bioenergic homeostasis, leading to increased autophagy in the villous trophoblast. The aims of this work were (1) to compare the differences in autophagy, p53 expression, and apoptosis between placentas of women with normal or IUGR pregnancies; (2) to study the effects of hypoxia and the role of p53 in regulating trophoblast autophagy; and (3) to investigate the relationship between autophagy and apoptosis in hypoxic trophoblasts.

Concepts: Cancer, Apoptosis, Obstetrics, Transcription factor, P53, Placenta, Programmed cell death, Fundal height


The AKT, GSK3 and JNK family kinases have been implicated in neuronal apoptosis associated with neuronal development and several neurodegenerative conditions. However, the mechanisms by which these kinase pathways regulate apoptosis remain unclear. In this study we have investigated the role of these kinases in neuronal cell death using an established model of trophic factor deprivation induced apoptosis in cerebellar granule neurons. BCL-2 family proteins are known to be central regulators of apoptosis and we have determined that the pro-apoptotic family member Puma is transcriptionally up-regulated in trophic factor deprived neurons and that Puma induction is required for apoptosis in vitro and in vivo. Importantly, we demonstrate that Puma induction is dependent on both JNK activation and AKT inactivation. AKT is known to regulate a number of downstream pathways, however we have determined that PI3K-AKT inactivation induces Puma expression through a GSK3β-dependent mechanism. Finally we demonstrate that the JNK and AKT/GSK3β pathways converge to regulate FoxO3a-mediated transcriptional activation of Puma. In summary we have identified a novel and critical link between the AKT, GSK3β and JNK kinases and the regulation of Puma induction and suggest that this may be pivotal to the regulation of neuronal apoptosis in neurodegenerative conditions.

Concepts: Neuron, Signal transduction, Apoptosis, Programmed cell death, Caspase, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Bcl-2-associated death promoter


Prodigiosin and obatoclax, members of the prodiginines family, are small molecules with anti-cancer properties that are currently under preclinical and clinical trials. The molecular target(s) of these agents, however, is an open question. Combining experimental and computational techniques we find that prodigiosin binds to the BH3 domain in some BCL-2 protein families, which play an important role in the apoptotic programmed cell death. In particular, our results indicate a large affinity of prodigiosin for MCL-1, an anti-apoptotic member of the BCL-2 family. In melanoma cells, we demonstrate that prodigiosin activates the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway by disrupting MCL-1/BAK complexes. Computer simulations with the PELE software allow the description of the induced fit process, obtaining a detailed atomic view of the molecular interactions. These results provide new data to understand the mechanism of action of these molecules, and assist in the development of more specific inhibitors of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins.

Concepts: Apoptosis, Programmed cell death, Caspase, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Bcl-2-associated X protein, Noxa, MCL1



Treatment of aggressive glioblastoma brain tumors is challenging, largely due to diffusion barriers preventing efficient drug dosing to tumors. To overcome these barriers, bacterial carriers that are actively motile and programmed to migrate and localize to tumor zones were designed. These carriers can induce apoptosis via hypoxia-controlled expression of a tumor suppressor protein p53 and a pro-apoptotic drug, Azurin. In a xenograft model of human glioblastoma in rats, bacterial carrier therapy conferred a significant survival benefit with 19% overall long-term survival of >100 days in treated animals relative to a median survival of 26 days in control untreated animals. Histological and proteomic analyses were performed to elucidate the safety and efficacy of these carriers, showing an absence of systemic toxicity and a restored neural environment in treated responders. In the treated non-responders, proteomic analysis revealed competing mechanisms of pro-apoptotic and drug-resistant activity. This bacterial carrier opens a versatile avenue to overcome diffusion barriers in glioblastoma by virtue of its active motility in extracellular space and can lead to tailored therapies via tumor-specific expression of tumoricidal proteins.

Concepts: Cancer, Oncology, Apoptosis, Brain tumor, P53, Proteomics, Tumor suppressor gene, Programmed cell death


Background The immune checkpoint inhibitor ipilimumab is the standard-of-care treatment for patients with advanced melanoma. Pembrolizumab inhibits the programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) immune checkpoint and has antitumor activity in patients with advanced melanoma. Methods In this randomized, controlled, phase 3 study, we assigned 834 patients with advanced melanoma in a 1:1:1 ratio to receive pembrolizumab (at a dose of 10 mg per kilogram of body weight) every 2 weeks or every 3 weeks or four doses of ipilimumab (at 3 mg per kilogram) every 3 weeks. Primary end points were progression-free and overall survival. Results The estimated 6-month progression-free-survival rates were 47.3% for pembrolizumab every 2 weeks, 46.4% for pembrolizumab every 3 weeks, and 26.5% for ipilimumab (hazard ratio for disease progression, 0.58; P<0.001 for both pembrolizumab regimens versus ipilimumab; 95% confidence intervals [CIs], 0.46 to 0.72 and 0.47 to 0.72, respectively). Estimated 12-month survival rates were 74.1%, 68.4%, and 58.2%, respectively (hazard ratio for death for pembrolizumab every 2 weeks, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.47 to 0.83; P=0.0005; hazard ratio for pembrolizumab every 3 weeks, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.52 to 0.90; P=0.0036). The response rate was improved with pembrolizumab administered every 2 weeks (33.7%) and every 3 weeks (32.9%), as compared with ipilimumab (11.9%) (P<0.001 for both comparisons). Responses were ongoing in 89.4%, 96.7%, and 87.9% of patients, respectively, after a median follow-up of 7.9 months. Efficacy was similar in the two pembrolizumab groups. Rates of treatment-related adverse events of grade 3 to 5 severity were lower in the pembrolizumab groups (13.3% and 10.1%) than in the ipilimumab group (19.9%). Conclusions The anti-PD-1 antibody pembrolizumab prolonged progression-free survival and overall survival and had less high-grade toxicity than did ipilimumab in patients with advanced melanoma. (Funded by Merck Sharp & Dohme; KEYNOTE-006 number, NCT01866319 .).

Concepts: Immune system, Antibody, Clinical trial, Cancer, Apoptosis, Chemotherapy, Dose, Programmed cell death


Background We assessed the efficacy and safety of programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) inhibition with pembrolizumab in patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer enrolled in a phase 1 study. We also sought to define and validate an expression level of the PD-1 ligand 1 (PD-L1) that is associated with the likelihood of clinical benefit. Methods We assigned 495 patients receiving pembrolizumab (at a dose of either 2 mg or 10 mg per kilogram of body weight every 3 weeks or 10 mg per kilogram every 2 weeks) to either a training group (182 patients) or a validation group (313 patients). We assessed PD-L1 expression in tumor samples using immunohistochemical analysis, with results reported as the percentage of neoplastic cells with staining for membranous PD-L1 (proportion score). Response was assessed every 9 weeks by central review. Results Common side effects that were attributed to pembrolizumab were fatigue, pruritus, and decreased appetite, with no clear difference according to dose or schedule. Among all the patients, the objective response rate was 19.4%, and the median duration of response was 12.5 months. The median duration of progression-free survival was 3.7 months, and the median duration of overall survival was 12.0 months. PD-L1 expression in at least 50% of tumor cells was selected as the cutoff from the training group. Among patients with a proportion score of at least 50% in the validation group, the response rate was 45.2%. Among all the patients with a proportion score of at least 50%, median progression-free survival was 6.3 months; median overall survival was not reached. Conclusions Pembrolizumab had an acceptable side-effect profile and showed antitumor activity in patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer. PD-L1 expression in at least 50% of tumor cells correlated with improved efficacy of pembrolizumab. (Funded by Merck; KEYNOTE-001 number, NCT01295827 .).

Concepts: Cancer, Oncology, Lung cancer, Anatomical pathology, Benign tumor, Tumor, Neoplasm, Programmed cell death


Neoplastic pancreatic epithelial cells are believed to die through caspase 8-dependent apoptotic cell death, and chemotherapy is thought to promote tumour apoptosis. Conversely, cancer cells often disrupt apoptosis to survive. Another type of programmed cell death is necroptosis (programmed necrosis), but its role in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is unclear. There are many potential inducers of necroptosis in PDA, including ligation of tumour necrosis factor receptor 1 (TNFR1), CD95, TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) receptors, Toll-like receptors, reactive oxygen species, and chemotherapeutic drugs. Here we report that the principal components of the necrosome, receptor-interacting protein (RIP)1 and RIP3, are highly expressed in PDA and are further upregulated by the chemotherapy drug gemcitabine. Blockade of the necrosome in vitro promoted cancer cell proliferation and induced an aggressive oncogenic phenotype. By contrast, in vivo deletion of RIP3 or inhibition of RIP1 protected against oncogenic progression in mice and was associated with the development of a highly immunogenic myeloid and T cell infiltrate. The immune-suppressive tumour microenvironment associated with intact RIP1/RIP3 signalling depended in part on necroptosis-induced expression of the chemokine attractant CXCL1, and CXCL1 blockade protected against PDA. Moreover, cytoplasmic SAP130 (a subunit of the histone deacetylase complex) was expressed in PDA in a RIP1/RIP3-dependent manner, and Mincle-its cognate receptor-was upregulated in tumour-infiltrating myeloid cells. Ligation of Mincle by SAP130 promoted oncogenesis, whereas deletion of Mincle protected against oncogenesis and phenocopied the immunogenic reprogramming of the tumour microenvironment that was induced by RIP3 deletion. Cellular depletion suggested that whereas inhibitory macrophages promote tumorigenesis in PDA, they lose their immune-suppressive effects when RIP3 or Mincle is deleted. Accordingly, T cells, which are not protective against PDA progression in mice with intact RIP3 or Mincle signalling, are reprogrammed into indispensable mediators of anti-tumour immunity in the absence of RIP3 or Mincle. Our work describes parallel networks of necroptosis-induced CXCL1 and Mincle signalling that promote macrophage-induced adaptive immune suppression and thereby enable PDA progression.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Gene expression, Cancer, Oncology, Apoptosis, Chemotherapy, Programmed cell death