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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The scavenging of superoxide radicals promotes apoptosis induced by a novel cell-permeable fusion protein, sTRAIL:FeSOD, in tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand-resistant leukemia cells

Hongyun Tang1, Yong Qin1, Jianyong Li1 and Xingguo Gong2*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Biochemistry, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, 310058, PR China

2 Institute of Biochemistry, College of Life Sciences, Zijingang campus, Room 345, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, PR China

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BMC Biology 2011, 9:18  doi:10.1186/1741-7007-9-18

Published: 19 March 2011



Many cancer cells develop resistance to tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL)-induced apoptosis, necessitating combination with chemotherapy, and normal cells manifest side effects due to the combined treatment regimen of TRAIL and chemotherapeutic drugs. A novel cancer therapy utilizing TRAIL is thus urgently needed.


In this study, we exploited TRAIL receptor-mediated endocytosis for the first time to produce a cell-permeable molecule, soluble forms of recombinant TRAIL:iron superoxide dismutase (sTRAIL:FeSOD), which possesses sTRAIL-induced apoptotic ability and FeSOD antioxidant activity. The FeSOD component was rapidly introduced into the cell by sTRAIL and intracellular superoxide radical (O2-), which have been implicated as potential modulators of apoptosis in cancer cells, was eliminated, resulting in a highly reduced cellular environment. The decrease in cellular O2-, which was accompanied by a brief accumulation of H2O2 and downregulation of phosphorylated Akt (p-Akt) and cellular FLICE-inhibitory protein, sensitized K562 leukemia cells and human promyelocytic leukemia (HL-60) cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis. The low H2O2 levels protected human LO2 hepatocytes from sTRAIL:FeSOD-induced apoptosis despite downregulation of p-Akt. We also obtained evidence that the lack of response to sTRAIL:FeSOD in normal T cells occurred because sTRAIL:FeSOD shows much stronger shifts of redox state in erythroleukemia (K562) and HL-60 cells compared to that in normal T cells. K562 and HL-60 cells underwent sTRAIL:FeSOD-induced apoptosis without the dysfunction of mitochondria.


The fusion protein overcomes the inability of FeSOD to permeate the cell membrane, exhibits synergistic apoptotic effects on K562 and HL-60 cells and demonstrates minimal toxicity to normal T cells and the normal liver cell line LO2, indicating its potential value for the treatment of leukemia.