The small heat shock protein HspB2 is a novel anti-apoptotic protein that inhibits apical caspase activation in the extrinsic apoptotic pathway
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Members of the conserved small heat shock protein (sHSP) family, such as αB-crystallin and Hsp27, are constitutively expressed in diverse malignancies and have been linked to several hallmark features of cancer including apoptosis resistance. In contrast, the sHSP HspB2/MKBP, which shares an intergenic promoter with αB-crystallin, was discovered as a chaperone of the myotonic dystrophy protein kinase and has not been previously implicated in apoptosis regulation. Here we describe a new function for HspB2 as a novel inhibitor of apical caspase activation in the extrinsic apoptotic pathway. Specifically, we demonstrate that HspB2 is expressed in a subset of human breast cancer cell lines and that ectopic expression of HspB2 in breast cancer cells confers resistance to apoptosis induced by both TRAIL and TNF-α. We also show that HspB2 inhibits the extrinsic apoptotic pathway by suppressing apical caspases-8 and 10 activation, thereby blocking downstream apoptotic events, such as Bid cleavage and caspase-3 activation. Consistent with these in vitro effects, HspB2 attenuates the anti-tumor activity of TRAIL in an orthotopic xenograft model of breast cancer. Collectively, our results reveal a novel function of HspB2 as an anti-apoptotic protein that negatively regulates apical caspase activation in the extrinsic apoptotic pathway.