Original Paper


, Volume 18, Issue 10, pp 1163-1174

First online:

Gamma-secretase inhibition attenuates oxaliplatin-induced apoptosis through increased Mcl-1 and/or Bcl-xL in human colon cancer cells

  • Cindy R. TimmeAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Therapeutics, Moffitt Cancer CenterCancer Biology Ph.D. Program, Department of Oncologic Sciences, University of South Florida
  • , Mike GruidlAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Therapeutics, Moffitt Cancer Center
  • , Timothy J. YeatmanAffiliated withGibbs Cancer Center Email author 

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The Notch signaling pathway plays a significant role in differentiation, proliferation, apoptosis, and stem cell processes. It is essential for maintenance of the normal colon crypt and has been implicated in colorectal cancer oncogenesis. Downregulation of the Notch pathway through gamma-secretase inhibitors (GSIs) has been shown to induce apoptosis and enhance response to chemotherapy in a variety of malignancies. In this study, we analyzed the effect of MRK-003 (Merck), a potent inhibitor of gamma-secretase, on oxaliplatin-induced apoptosis in colon cancer. Unexpectedly, gamma-secretase inhibition reduced oxaliplatin-induced apoptosis while GSI treatment alone was shown to have no effect on growth or apoptosis. We determined that the underlying mechanism of action involved an increase in protein levels of the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members Mcl-1 and/or Bcl-xL which resulted in reduced Bax and Bak activation. Blocking of Mcl-1 and/or Bcl-xL through siRNA or the small molecule inhibitor obatoclax restored the apoptotic potential of cells treated with both oxaliplatin and MRK-003. Moreover, obatoclax synergized with MRK-003 alone to induce apoptosis. Our findings warrant caution when treating colon cancer with the combination of GSIs and chemotherapy, whereas other drug combinations, such as GSIs plus obatoclax, should be explored.


Gamma-secretase inhibitor Oxaliplatin Mcl-1 Bcl-xL Colon