Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy

, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 153–159

Apoptosis pathways in cancer and cancer therapy


DOI: 10.1007/s00262-003-0474-8

Cite this article as:
Debatin, KM. Cancer Immunol Immunother (2004) 53: 153. doi:10.1007/s00262-003-0474-8


Activation of apoptosis pathways is a key mechanism by which cytotoxic drugs kill tumor cells. Also immunotherapy of tumors requires an apoptosis sensitive phenotype of target cells. Defects in apoptosis signalling contribute to resistance of tumors. Activation of apoptosis signalling following treatment with cytotoxic drugs has been shown to lead to activation of the mitochondrial (intrinsic) pathway of apoptosis. In addition, signalling through the death receptor (extrinsic) pathways, contributes to sensitivity of tumor cells towards cytotoxic treatment. Both pathways converge finally at the level of activation of caspases, the effector molecules in most forms of cell death. In addition to classical apoptosis, non-apoptotic modes of cell death have recently been identified. Mechanisms to overcome apoptosis resistance include direct targeting of antiapoptotic molecules expressed in tumors as well as re-sensitization of previously resistant tumor cells by re-expression of caspases and counteracting apoptotis inhibitory molecules such as Bcl-2 and molecules of the IAP family of endogenous caspase inhibitors. Molecular insights into regulation of apoptosis and defects in apoptosis signalling in tumor cells will provide novel approaches to define sensitivity or resistance of tumor cells towards antitumor therapy and provide new targets for rational therapeutic interventions for future therapeutic strategies.


Apoptosis Cancer therapy Resistance mechanisms Cytotoxic drugs Immunotherapy Apoptosis defects 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of MedicineUniversity of UlmUlmGermany

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