Resistance to chemotherapy presents a serious challenge in the successful treatment of various cancers and is mainly responsible for mortality associated with disseminated cancers. Here we show that expression of HtrA1, which is frequently downregulated in ovarian cancer, influences tumor response to chemotherapy by modulating chemotherapy-induced cytotoxicity. Downregulation of HtrA1 attenuated cisplatin- and paclitaxel-induced cytotoxicity, while forced expression of HtrA1 enhanced cisplatin- and paclitaxel-induced cytotoxicity. HtrA1 expression was upregulated by both cisplatin and paclitaxel treatment. This upregulation resulted in limited autoproteolysis and activation of HtrA1. Active HtrA1 induces cell death in a serine protease-dependent manner. The potential role of HtrA1 as a predictive factor of clinical response to chemotherapy was assessed in both ovarian and gastric cancer patients receiving cisplatin-based regimens. Patients with ovarian or gastric tumors expressing higher levels of HtrA1 showed a higher response rate compared with those with lower levels of HtrA1 expression. These findings uncover what we believe to be a novel pathway by which serine protease HtrA1 mediates paclitaxel- and cisplatin-induced cytotoxicity and suggest that loss of HtrA1 in ovarian and gastric cancers may contribute to in vivo chemoresistance.
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