, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 221-233

HAMLET triggers apoptosis but tumor cell death is independent of caspases, Bcl-2 and p53

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HAMLET (Human α-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells) triggers selective tumor cell death in vitro and limits tumor progression in vivo. Dying cells show features of apoptosis but it is not clear if the apoptotic response explains tumor cell death. This study examined the contribution of apoptosis to cell death in response to HAMLET. Apoptotic changes like caspase activation, phosphatidyl serine externalization, chromatin condensation were detected in HAMLET-treated tumor cells, but caspase inhibition or Bcl-2 over-expression did not prolong cell survival and the caspase response was Bcl-2 independent. HAMLET translocates to the nuclei and binds directly to chromatin, but the death response was unrelated to the p53 status of the tumor cells. p53 deletions or gain of function mutations did not influence the HAMLET sensitivity of tumor cells. Chromatin condensation was partly caspase dependent, but apoptosis-like marginalization of chromatin was also observed. The results show that tumor cell death in response to HAMLET is independent of caspases, p53 and Bcl-2 even though HAMLET activates an apoptotic response. The use of other cell death pathways allows HAMLET to successfully circumvent fundamental anti-apoptotic strategies that are present in many tumor cells.