Inhibition of mTORC2 enhances UVB-induced apoptosis in keratinocytes through a mechanism dependent on the FOXO3a transcriptional target NOXA but independent of TRAIL

Robert P. Feehan, Amanda M. Nelson, Lisa M. Shantz

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The primary cause of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. We have shown previously that mTORC2 inhibition sensitizes keratinocytes to UVB-induced apoptosis mediated by the transcription factor FOXO3a. FOXO3a is a key regulator of apoptosis and a tumor suppressor in several cancer types. Activation of FOXO3a promotes apoptosis through the coordinated expression of a variety of target genes, including TRAIL and NOXA. We hypothesized that in the setting of mTORC2 inhibition, the UVB-induced expression of these factors would lead to apoptosis in a FOXO3a-dependent manner. Using spontaneously immortalized human keratinocytes (HaCaT cells), we observed that both TRAIL and NOXA expression increased in cells exposed to UVB and the TOR kinase inhibitor Torin 2. Similar to knockdown of FOXO3a, NOXA knockdown reversed the sensitization to UVB-induced apoptosis caused by mTORC2 inhibition. In contrast, loss of TRAIL by either knockdown or knockout actually enhanced expression of nuclear FOXO3a, which maintained apoptosis. These surprising results are not due to faulty death receptor signaling in HaCaT cells, as we found that the cells undergo extrinsic apoptosis in response to treatment with recombinant TRAIL. Even more striking, TRAIL knockout cells were sensitized to recombinant TRAIL-induced apoptosis compared to wild-type HaCaT cells, with the largest increase occurring in the presence of mTORC2 inhibition. Taken together, these studies provide strong evidence that mTORC2 controls UVB-induced apoptosis by regulating NOXA expression downstream of FOXO3a. Moreover, FOXO3a transcriptional activation by mTORC2 inhibitors may be a valuable target for prevention or therapy of NMSC, especially in cases with low endogenous TRAIL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)35-47
Number of pages13
JournalCellular Signalling
StatePublished - Dec 2018


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cell Biology

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