Apoptotic proteins with non-apoptotic activity: expression and function in cancer

Varda Shoshan-Barmatz, Tasleem Arif, Anna Shteinfer-Kuzmine

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Apoptosis is a process of programmed cell death in which a cell commits suicide while maintaining the integrity and architecture of the tissue as a whole. Apoptosis involves activation of one of two major pathways: the extrinsic pathway, where extracellular pro-apoptotic signals, transduced through plasma membrane death receptors, activate a caspase cascade leading to apoptosis. The second, the intrinsic apoptotic pathway, where damaged DNA, oxidative stress, or chemicals, induce the release of pro-apoptotic proteins from the mitochondria, leading to the activation of caspase-dependent and independent apoptosis. However, it has recently become apparent that proteins involved in apoptosis also exhibit non-cell death-related physiological functions that are related to the cell cycle, differentiation, metabolism, inflammation or immunity. Such non-conventional activities were predominantly reported in non-cancer cells although, recently, such a dual function for pro-apoptotic proteins has also been reported in cancers where they are overexpressed. Interestingly, some apoptotic proteins translocate to the nucleus in order to perform a non-apoptotic function. In this review, we summarize the unconventional roles of the apoptotic proteins from a functional perspective, while focusing on two mitochondrial proteins: VDAC1 and SMAC/Diablo. Despite having pro-apoptotic functions, these proteins are overexpressed in cancers and this apparent paradox and the associated pathophysiological implications will be discussed. We will also present possible mechanisms underlying the switch from apoptotic to non-apoptotic activities although a deeper investigation into the process awaits further study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)730-753
Number of pages24
JournalApoptosis : an international journal on programmed cell death
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2023


  • Apoptosis
  • Cancer
  • Metabolism
  • Mitochondria
  • SMAC/Diablo
  • VDAC1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Cancer Research
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Apoptotic proteins with non-apoptotic activity: expression and function in cancer'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this