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Targeting Hsp90 with small molecule inhibitors induces the over-expression of the anti-apoptotic molecule, survivin, in human A549, HONE-1 and HT-29 cancer cells

Chun Hei Antonio Cheung1, Huang-Hui Chen1, Li-Ting Cheng1, Kevin W Lyu2, Jagat R Kanwar3 and Jang-Yang Chang14*

Author Affiliations

1 National Institute of Cancer Research, National Health Research Institutes (NHRI), Tainan 70456, Taiwan ROC

2 Department of Biological Science, University of Southern California, California, USA

3 Institute of Biotechnology (BioDeakin), Institute for Technology Research and Innovation, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria 3217, Australia

4 Division of Hematology and Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, National Cheng Kung University Hospital, Tainan 70456, Taiwan ROC

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Molecular Cancer 2010, 9:77  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-9-77

Published: 15 April 2010



Survivin is a dual functioning protein. It inhibits the apoptosis of cancer cells by inhibiting caspases, and also promotes cancer cell growth by stabilizing microtubules during mitosis. Since the molecular chaperone Hsp90 binds and stabilizes survivin, it is widely believed that down-regulation of survivin is one of the important therapeutic functions of Hsp90 inhibitors such as the phase III clinically trialed compound 17-AAG. However, Hsp90 interferes with a number of molecules that up-regulate the intracellular level of survivin, raising the question that clinical use of Hsp90 inhibitors may indirectly induce survivin expression and subsequently enhance cancer anti-drug responses. The purpose of this study is to determine whether targeting Hsp90 can alter survivin expression differently in different cancer cell lines and to explore possible mechanisms that cause the alteration in survivin expression.


Here, we demonstrated that Hsp90 inhibitors, geldanamycin and 17-AAG, induced the over-expression of survivin in three different human cancer cell lines as shown by Western blotting. Increased survivin mRNA transcripts were observed in 17-AAG and geldanamycin-treated HT-29 and HONE-1 cancer cells. Interestingly, real-time PCR and translation inhibition studies revealed that survivin was over-expressed partially through the up-regulation of protein translation instead of gene transcription in A549 cancer cells. In addition, 17-AAG-treated A549, HONE-1 and HT-29 cells showed reduced proteasomal activity while inhibition of 26S proteasome activity further increased the amount of survivin protein in cells. At the functional level, down-regulation of survivin by siRNA further increased the drug sensitivity to 17-AAG in the tested cancer cell lines.


We showed for the first time that down-regulation of survivin is not a definite therapeutic function of Hsp90 inhibitors. Instead, targeting Hsp90 with small molecule inhibitors will induce the over-expression of survivin in certain cancer cell lines and subsequently enhances the ability of cell survival in drug-treated situations. The current study suggests that dual inhibition of Hsp90 and survivin may be warranted.