Induction of programmed cell death (PCD) is a key cytotoxic effect of anticancer therapies. PCD is not confined to caspase-dependent apoptosis, but includes necroptosis, a regulated form of necrotic cell death controlled by receptor-interacting protein (RIP) kinases 1 and 3, and mixed lineage kinase domain-like (MLKL) pseudokinase. Necroptosis functions as a defense mechanism against oncogenic mutations and pathogens and can be induced by a variety of anticancer agents. However, the functional role and regulatory mechanisms of necroptosis in anticancer therapy are poorly understood. In this study, we found that RIP3-dependent but RIP1-independent necroptosis is engaged by 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and other widely used antimetabolite drugs, and functions as a major mode of cell death in a subset of colorectal cancer cells that express RIP3. We identified a novel 5-FU–induced necroptosis pathway involving p53-mediated induction of the BH3-only Bcl-2 family protein, p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis (PUMA), which promotes cytosolic release of mitochondrial DNA and stimulates its sensor z-DNA-binding protein 1 (ZBP1) to activate RIP3. PUMA/RIP3-dependent necroptosis mediates the in vitro and in vivo antitumor effects of 5-FU and promotes a robust antitumor immune response. Our findings provide a rationale for stimulating necroptosis to enhance tumor cell killing and antitumor immune response leading to improved colorectal cancer treatments.

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