Enhanced extrinsic apoptosis of therapy-induced senescent cancer cells using a death receptor 5 (DR5) selective agonist

Abel Soto-Gamez, Yizhou Wang, Xinyu Zhou, Lorina Seras, Wim Quax*, Marco Demaria*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
137 Downloads (Pure)


Genotoxic agents are widely used anti-cancer therapies because of their ability to interfere with highly proliferative cells. An important outcome of these interventions is the induction of a state of permanent arrest also known as cellular senescence. However, senescent cancer cells are characterized by genomic instability and are at risk of escaping the growth arrest to eventually facilitate cancer relapse. The tumor necrosis factor related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) signals extrinsic apoptosis via Death Receptors (DR) 4 and 5, while Decoy Receptors (DcR) 1 and 2, and Osteoprotegerin (OPG) are homologous to death receptors but incapable of transducing an apoptotic signal. The use of recombinant TRAIL as an anti-cancer strategy in combination with chemotherapy is currently in development, and a major question remains whether senescent cancer cells respond to TRAIL. Here, we show variable sensitivity of cancer cells to TRAIL after senescence induction, and upregulation of both pro-apoptotic and anti-apoptotic receptors in therapy-induced senescent cancer cells. A DR5-selective TRAIL variant (DHER), unable to bind to DcR1 or OPG, was more effective in inducing apoptosis of senescent cancer cells compared to wild-type TRAIL. Importantly, no apoptosis induction was observed in non-cancerous cells, even at the highest concentrations tested. Our results suggest that targeting DR5 can serve as a novel therapeutic strategy for the elimination of therapy-induced senescent cancer cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-75
Number of pages9
JournalCancer letters
Early online date30-Oct-2021
Publication statusPublished - 28-Jan-2022


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