Background: We recently reported that colon tumor cells stimulate macrophages to release IL-1β, which in turn inactivates GSK3β and enhances Wnt signaling in colon cancer cells, generating a self-amplifying loop that promotes the growth of tumor cells. Principal Findings: Here we describe that macrophages protect HCT116 and Hke-3 colon cancer cells from TRAIL-induced apoptosis. Inactivation of IL-1β by neutralizing IL-1β antibody, or silencing of IL-1b in macrophages inhibited their ability to counter TRAIL-induced apoptosis. Accordingly, IL-1β was sufficient to inhibit TRAIL-induced apoptosis. TRAIL-induced collapse of the mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψ) and activation of caspases were prevented by macrophages or by recombinant IL-1β. Pharmacological inhibition of IL-1β release from macrophages by vitamin D3, a potent chemopreventive agent for colorectal cancer, restored the ability of TRAIL to induce apoptosis of tumor cells cultured with macrophages. Macrophages and IL-1β failed to inhibit TRAIL-induced apoptosis in HCT116 cells expressing dnIkB, dnAKT or dnTCF4, confirming that they oppose TRAIL-induced cell death through induction of Wnt signaling in tumor cells. We showed that macrophages and IL-1β stabilized Snail in tumor cells in an NF-kB/Wnt dependent manner and that Snail deficient tumor cells were not protected from TRAIL-induced apoptosis by macrophages or by IL-1β, demonstrating a crucial role of Snail in the resistance of tumor cells to TRAIL. Significance: We have identified a positive feedback loop between tumor cells and macrophages that propagates the growth and promotes the survival of colon cancer cells: tumor cells stimulate macrophages to secrete IL-1β, which in turn, promotes Wnt signaling and stabilizes Snail in tumor cells, conferring resistance to TRAIL. Vitamin D3 halts this amplifying loop by interfering with the release of IL-1β from macrophages. Accordingly, vitamin D3 sensitizes tumor cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis, suggesting that the therapeutic efficacy of TRAIL could be augmented by this readily available chemopreventive agent.
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