Background: Survivin is a member of the inhibitor-of-apoptosis (IAP) family which is widely expressed by many different cancers. Overexpression of survivin is associated with drug resistance in cancer cells, and reduced patient survival after chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Agents that antagonize the function of survivin hold promise for treating many forms of cancer. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether a cell-permeable dominant-negative survivin protein would demonstrate bioactivity against prostate and cervical cancer cells grown in three dimensional culture.Results: A dominant-negative survivin (C84A) protein fused to the cell penetrating peptide poly-arginine (R9) was expressed in E. coli and purified by affinity chromatography. Western blot analysis revealed that dNSurR9-C84A penetrated into 3D-cultured HeLa and DU145 cancer cells, and a cell viability assay revealed it induced cancer cell death. It increased the activities of caspase-9 and caspase-3, and rendered DU145 cells sensitive to TNF-α via by a mechanism involving activation of caspase-8.Conclusions: The results demonstrate that antagonism of survivin function triggers the apoptosis of prostate and cervical cancer cells grown in 3D culture. It renders cancer cells sensitive to the proapoptotic affects of TNF-α, suggesting that survivin blocks the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis. Combination of the biologically active dNSurR9-C84A protein or other survivin antagonists with TNF-α therapy warrants consideration as an approach to cancer therapy.
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