• chelerythrin;
  • leukaemia;
  • FLIP;
  • caspase-8;
  • PKC

Summary. KG1a cells (CD34+/38) express FAS and TRAIL (tumour-necrosis-factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand) receptors but are resistant to FAS-ligand and TRAIL/APO2-L (apoptosis antigen-2 ligand)-induced apoptosis. KG1a cells are sensitized to FAS-induced apoptosis by chelerythrin, an inhibitor of protein kinase C (PKC). As cytoplasmatic adaptor molecules of FAS, e.g. FLIP {Fas-associated death domain protein (FADD)-like interleukin 1 beta-converting enzyme [FLICE (caspase-8)-inhibitory protein]}, also modulate TRAIL signals, we determined whether chelerythrin affected TRAIL-mediated apoptosis. Chelerythrin by itself induced apoptosis in KG1a cells, and apoptosis was associated with activation of caspase-8. While TRAIL alone failed to activate caspase-8 or induce apoptosis, the addition of TRAIL to chelerythrin-treated cells significantly enhanced cleavage of caspase-8 and apoptosis. Chelerythrin-pretreated KG1a cells showed decreased phosphorylation of protein kinase C (PKC)-ζ and downregulation of both FLIP long and FLIP short proteins. Downregulation of FLIP and induction of apoptosis were partially abrogated by pretreatment with the specific caspase-8 inhibitor, Z-IETD-FMK. The decrease in FLIP protein expression induced by chelerythrin was accompanied by a progressive increase in mRNA levels of both FLIP long and FLIP short. CD34+ precursors from normal human marrow were also sensitive to chelerythrin but, in contrast to KG1a cells, were not sensitized to TRAIL-mediated apoptosis. Thus, resistance to TRAIL-induced apoptosis in leukaemic KG1a cells but not in normal CD34+ precursors was overcome in the presence of chelerythrin. The mechanism appeared to involve inhibition of PKC. Central targets were FLIP long and FLIP short, and their interactions with caspase-8. Whether such a pathway can be exploited to selectively target leukaemic progenitor cells remains to be determined.