Failure of activation of caspase-9 induces a higher threshold for apoptosis and cisplatin resistance in testicular cancer

Thomas Mueller, Wieland Voigt, Heike Simon, Angelika Fruehauf, Andrej Bulankin, Axel Grothey, Hans Joachim Schmoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Testicular germ cell cancer is one of the very few cancers that are highly sensitive to and curable by cisplatin-based chemotherapy even in an advanced stage. However, in a few cases resistance to cisplatin occurs and patients subsequently die from progressive disease. The molecular basis for this resistance remains to be determined. Using two cisplatin-sensitive (2102EP and H12.1) and one cisplatin-resistant human testicular germ cell cancer cell line (1411HP), we investigated molecular mechanisms in the induction of apoptosis after cisplatin-treatment focusing on the cleavage and activation of caspase-2, caspase-3, caspase-7, caspase-8, and caspase-9. The cell line 1411HP showed a 3.3-fold cisplatin resistance when compared with the sensitive cell lines 2102EP and H12.1 by IC90s, which was treatment schedule independent (2- or 24-h incubation). Cisplatin resistance was associated with substantially decreased apoptosis in vitro and in derived nude mice xenografts as determined by Apo 2.7 detection, DNA-laddering, immunohistochemistry of active caspase-3, and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated nick end labeling assay. Total DNA platination as assessed by ELISA after cisplatin treatment in equimolar doses did not differ between cisplatin-resistant or -sensitive cells. In separate analysis of cells of early and late apoptotic stages, initiation of cisplatin-induced apoptosis appeared to be rather mediated by caspase-9 than by caspase-8. Resistant 1411HP cells failed to activate caspase-9 during the induction of apoptosis after cisplatin treatment at the IC90 dose. Interestingly, inhibition of caspase-9 in sensitive H12.1 almost completely blocked apoptosis and induced cisplatin resistance to the same extent as in 1411HP so that apoptosis could only be induced by 3.3-fold higher cisplatin doses. Furthermore, in caspase-9 blocked cells, initiation of apoptosis occurred in a caspase-9 independent manner accompanied by activation of caspase-2 and caspase-3, which are intrinsic characteristics of resistant 1411HP cells. Failure of caspase-9 activation and cisplatin resistance was independent of the expression of p53, Bcl-2 family proteins, Fas receptor, and Fas ligand. In conclusion, failure of activation of the caspase-9 pathway induces a higher cellular threshold for cisplatin-mediated induction of apoptosis in testicular cancer cells. However, this higher threshold can be overcome by higher cisplatin doses, conceivably by using an alternate, caspase-9-independent apoptotic pathway. This supports the current clinical strategy of high-dose chemotherapy in patients with chemorefractory germ cell tumors. However, additional defining and eventually targeting the exact molecular mechanism blocking caspase-9 activation might lead to more selective therapeutic approaches to overcome cisplatin resistance in germ cell cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-521
Number of pages9
JournalCancer research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Failure of activation of caspase-9 induces a higher threshold for apoptosis and cisplatin resistance in testicular cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this