A New Role for the Mitochondrial Pro-apoptotic Protein SMAC/Diablo in Phospholipid Synthesis Associated with Tumorigenesis

Avijit Paul, Yakov Krelin, Tasleem Arif, Rina Jeger, Varda Shoshan-Barmatz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The mitochondrial pro-apoptotic protein SMAC/Diablo participates in apoptosis by negatively regulating IAPs and activating caspases, thus encouraging apoptosis. Unexpectedly, we found that SMAC/Diablo is overexpressed in cancer. This paradox was addressed here by silencing SMAC/Diablo expression using specific siRNA (si-hSMAC). In cancer cell lines and subcutaneous lung cancer xenografts in mice, such silencing reduced cell and tumor growth. Immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy of the si-hSMAC-treated residual tumor demonstrated morphological changes, including cell differentiation and reorganization into glandular/alveoli-like structures and elimination of lamellar bodies, surfactant-producing organs. Next-generation sequencing of non-targeted or si-hSMAC-treated tumors revealed altered expression of genes associated with the cellular membrane and extracellular matrix, of genes found in the ER and Golgi lumen and in exosomal networks, of genes involved in lipid metabolism, and of lipid, metabolite, and ion transporters. SMAC/Diablo silencing decreased the levels of phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine. These findings suggest that SMAC/Diablo possesses additional non-apoptotic functions related to regulating lipid synthesis essential for cancer growth and development and that this may explain SMAC/Diablo overexpression in cancer. The new lipid synthesis-related function of the pro-apoptotic protein SMAC/Diablo in cancer cells makes SMAC/Diablo a promising therapeutic target. Paradoxically, the mitochondrial pro-apoptotic protein SMAC/Diablo is overexpressed in several cancers. Silencing SMAC/Diablo expression in cancer cells and in mice lung cancer xenografts reduced cell and tumor growth and phospholipids levels. We demonstrate that SMAC/Diablo possesses a new lipid synthesis-related function essential for cancer growth, making SMAC/Diablo a promising therapeutic target.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)680-694
Number of pages15
JournalMolecular Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - 7 Mar 2018


  • SMAC/Diablo
  • apoptosis
  • cancer
  • mitochondria
  • phospholipid synthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery


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