Cancer Gene Therapy: Combination with Radiation Therapy and the Role of Bystander Cell Killing in the Anti-tumor Effect


Department of Molecular and Tumor Radiobiology, National Research Institute for Radiobiology and Radiohygiene, Budapest, Hungary


Current anti-cancer modalities such as surgery, chemo- and radiation therapies have only limited success in cancer treatment. Gene therapy is a promising new tool to improve outcomes. In this review, first we summarize the various strategies to kill tumor cells, and then focus on the bystander effect of gene therapy. A variety of strategies, such as gene-directed enzyme pro-drug therapy, activation of an anti-tumor immune attack, application of replication-competent and oncolytic viral vectors, tumor-specific as well as radiation- and hypoxiainduced gene expression, might be applied to target tumor cells. We put special emphasis on the combination of these approaches with local tumor irradiation. Using the available vector systems, only a small portion of cancer cells contains the therapeutic genes under clinical situations. However, cells directly targeted by gene therapy will transfer death signals to neighboring cancer cells. This bystander cell killing improves the efficiency of cancer gene therapy. Death signals are delivered by cell-to-cell communication through gap junction intercellular contacts, release of toxic metabolites into the neighborhood or to larger distances, phagocytosis of apoptotic bodies, and the activation of the immune system. Bystander cell killing can be enhanced by the introduction of gap junction proteins into cells, by further activating the immune system with immune-stimulatory molecules, or by introducing genes that help the transfer of cytotoxic genes and/or metabolites into bystander cells. In conclusion, although bystander cell killing can improve therapeutic effects, there should be additional developments in cancer gene therapy for a more efficient clinical application. Pathology & Oncology Research, Vol 12, Nr 2, 118-124, 2006

Key words: gene therapy; bystander effect; gap junction

Received: Jan 25, 2005; accepted: Apr 20, 2006
Correspondence: Géza SÁFRÁNY, Department of Molecular and Tumor Radiobiology, National Research Institute for Radiobiology and Radiohygiene, Anna u. 5. Budapest H-1221, Hungary; Tel: +36-1-482-2010, Fax: +36-1-482-2010; E-mail:

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