Caspase-9 inhibition triggers Hsp90-based chemotherapy-mediated tumor intrinsic innate sensing and enhances antitumor immunity

January, 01, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Antineoplastic chemotherapies are dramatically efficient when they provoke immunogenic cell death (ICD), thus inducing an antitumor immune response and even tumor elimination. However, activated caspases, the hallmark of most cancer chemotherapeutic agents, render apoptosis immunologically silent. Whether they are dispensable for chemotherapy-induced cell death and the apoptotic clearance of cells in vivo is still elusive.


A rational cell-based anticancer drug library screening was performed to explore the immunogenic apoptosis pathway and therapeutic targets under apoptotic caspase inhibition. Based on this screening, the potential of caspase inhibition in enhancing chemotherapy-induced antitumor immunity and the mechanism of actions was investigated by various cells and mouse models.


Heat shock protein 90 (Hsp90) inhibition activates caspases in tumor cells to produce abundant genomic and mitochondrial DNA fragments and results in cell apoptosis. Meanwhile, it hijacks Caspase-9 signaling to suppress intrinsic DNA sensing. Pharmacological blockade or genetic deletion of Caspase-9 causes tumor cells to secrete interferon (IFN)-β via tumor intrinsic mitochondrial DNA/the second messenger cyclic GMP–AMP (cGAS) /stimulator of interferon genes (STING) pathway without impairing Hsp90 inhibition-induced cell death. Importantly, both Caspase-9 and Hsp90 inhibition triggers an ICD, leading to the release of numerous damage-associated molecular patterns such as high-mobility group box protein 1, ATP and type I IFNs in vitro and remarkable antitumor effects in vivo. Moreover, the combination treatment also induces adaptive resistance by upregulating programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1). Additional PD-L1 blockade can further overcome this acquired immune resistance and achieve complete tumor regression.


Blockade of Caspase-9 signaling selectively provokes Hsp90-based chemotherapy-mediated tumor innate sensing, leading to CD8+ T cell-dependent tumor control. Our findings implicate that pharmacological modulation of caspase pathway increases the tumor-intrinsic innate sensing and immunogenicity of chemotherapy-induced apoptosis, and synergizes with immunotherapy to overcome adaptive resistance.

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