Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Small interfering RNA targeting mcl-1 enhances proteasome inhibitor-induced apoptosis in various solid malignant tumors

Wei Zhou12, Jingzi Hu3, Haimei Tang2, Da Wang12, Xuefeng Huang12, Chao He12 and Hongbo Zhu12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Colorectal Surgery, Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital, School of Medicine, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China

2 Key Laboratory of Biotherapy of Zhejiang province, Hangzhou, China

3 Department of Internal Medicine, Aviation Medical Evaluation & Training center of Airforce in Hangzhou, Hangzhou, China

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:485  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-485

Published: 14 November 2011



Targeting the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway is a promising approach for anticancer strategies. Recently, we found Bik accumulation in cancer cell lines after they were treated with bortezomib. However, recent evidence indicates that proteasome inhibitors may also induce the accumulation of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members. The current study was designed to analyze the levels of several anti-apoptotic members of Bcl-2 family in different human cancer cell lines after they were treated with proteasome inhibitors.


Different human cancer cell lines were treated with proteasome inhibitors. Western blot were used to investigate the expression of Mcl-1 and activation of mitochondrial apoptotic signaling. Cell viability was investigated using SRB assay, and induction of apoptosis was measured using flow cytometry.


We found elevated Mcl-1 level in human colon cancer cell lines DLD1, LOVO, SW620, and HCT116; human ovarian cancer cell line SKOV3; and human lung cancer cell line H1299, but not in human breast cancer cell line MCF7 after they were treated with bortezomib. This dramatic Mcl-1 accumulation was also observed when cells were treated with other two proteasome inhibitors, MG132 and calpain inhibitor I (ALLN). Moreover, our results showed Mcl-1 accumulation was caused by stabilization of the protein against degradation. Reducing Mcl-1 accumulation by Mcl-1 siRNA reduced Mcl-1 accumulation and enhanced proteasome inhibitor-induced cell death and apoptosis, as evidenced by the increased cleavage of caspase-9, caspase-3, and poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase.


Our results showed that it was not only Bik but also Mcl-1 accumulation during the treatment of proteasome inhibitors, and combining proteasome inhibitors with Mcl-1 siRNA would enhance the ultimate anticancer effect suggesting this combination might be a more effective strategy for cancer therapy.