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Tumour necrosis factor (TNF) is a multi-functional cytokine with profound and diverse effects on physiology and pathology. Identifying the molecular determinants underlying the functions and pathogenic effects of TNF is key to understanding its mechanisms of action and identifying new therapeutic opportunities based on this important molecule. Previously, we showed that some evolutionarily conserved peptides derived from TNF could induce cell death (e.g. apoptosis and/or necrosis), a feature of immune defence mechanisms shared by many vertebrates. In this study, we demonstrated that necrosis-inducing peptide P16 kills human glioblastoma cancer cells and primary human hepatoma or renal cancer cells isolated from patients who had not responded to standard treatments. Importantly, we show that the necrosis-inducing peptide P1516 significantly improves survival by inhibiting tumour metastasis in a 4T1 breast cancer syngeneic graft mouse model. Because the lymphatic system is an important metastatic route in many cancers, we also tested the effect of TNF-derived peptides on monolayers of primary human lymphatic endothelial cells (hDLEC) and found that they increased junctional permeability by inducing cytoskeletal reorganization, gap junction formation and cell death. Transmission electron microscopy imaging evidence, structural analysis and in-vitro liposome leakage experiments strongly suggest that this killing is due to the cytolytic nature of these peptides. P1516 provides another example of a pro-cytotoxic TNF peptide that probably functions as a cryptic necrotic factor released by TNF degradation. Its ability to inhibit tumour metastasis and improve survival may form the basis of a novel approach to cancer therapy.

Original publication




Journal article


Clin Exp Immunol

Publication Date





198 - 211


Apoptosis, antigens/peptides/epitopes, cancer, cytokines, cytotoxicity, Cytotoxins, Endothelial Cells, Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells, Humans, Jurkat Cells, Neoplasm Metastasis, Neoplasms, Peptides, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha