Fas plays a critical role in cell proliferation and in the selective killing of autoreactive lymphocytes and abnormal cells, including infected cells. To explain the common expression of Fas and the resistance to the Fas-induced apoptosis observed in some normal and cancer cells, we screened cells for potential regulators of the Fas death receptor. By using mass spectroscopy analysis of Fas-associated proteins, we identified peptides derived from promyelocytic leukemia (PML).
PML enhances pro-apoptotic signaling, while its dominant negative form, promyelocytic leukemia–retinoic acid receptor α (PMLRARα) fusion protein, activates pro-survival pathways. Given these opposing functions, we tested whether PMLRARα blocks Fas-mediated apoptosis.
Co-immunoprecipitation analysis demonstrated that PMLRARα interacts with Fas in acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL)-derived NB4 cells, U937/PR9 cells and APL primary cells isolated from patients. The PMLRARα-Fas binding was mapped to the PML B-box domain of PMLRARα and death domain of Fas. Flow cytometry analysis of propidium iodide- and Annexin V-stained cells challenged with Fas ligand (FasL) or agonistic anti-Fas antibody CH-11 indicated that PMLRARα blocks Fas-mediated apoptosis at early and late stages. In line with this finding, knockdown of PMLRARα with shRNA sensitized the NB4 cells to Fas-mediated apoptosis. Detailed analysis showed that expression of PMLRARα prevents procaspase-8 from binding to the Fas complex upon stimulation with the agonistic anti-Fas antibody (CH-11) and thus, also prevents cleavage/activation of procaspase-8. Further analysis indicated that PMLRARα recruits caspase-8 inhibitor c-FLIPL/S to Fas to suppress Fas signaling. A significantly higher number of mice transfected with PMLRARα-expressing plasmid than mice transfected with empty vector survived the treatment with the mouse agonistic anti-Fas antibody Jo2 (11 of 12 vs. 0 of 12; P < 0.001). Livers from PMLRARα-transfected mice contained fewer cleaved caspase-3 positive/apoptotic cells when compared with vector-transfected mice.
These data suggest that PMLRARα is a cancer specific Fas-binding inhibitor of Fas-mediated apoptosis and thus, can contribute to cancer development and resistance to therapy. Our results may provide an explanation for the long-known role of PMLRARα and PML in the regulation of Fas signaling, which, as we have shown, can occur by regulation via direct interaction. The newly-discovered PMLRARα-Fas and PML-Fas complexes can be sites for modulation of apoptossis. By neutralizing the effect of death receptor inhibitors such as PMLRARα, we can improve responses to many chemotherapeutic treatments that depend on activation of death receptors for effective elimination of cancer cells.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.