The Inhibitor of Apoptosis Protein family (IAP) functions as inhibitors of apoptotic pathways, both death receptor- and mitochondrial mediated. We detail the current body of knowledge for the IAP family with regard to their structure and function, their expression in normal and leukemic cells, and their prognostic importance in acute leukemia. Although there is some evidence that IAPs play an important role in the chemoresistance of leukemia cell lines, little is known about their influence on this phenomenon in acute leukemia cells of human origin. IAPs are also explored as a specific target for new antitumor strategies, including antisense oligonucleotides of XIAP (X-chromosome-linked IAP) or survivin and small molecules of polyphenylurea-based XIAP inhibitors.
Several proteins negatively regulate the function of the IAP family. One of those antagonists is Smac/DIABLO. Short peptides of Smac were found to enhanced apoptosis, induced by chemo- or immunotherapy, in the leukemic cells in vitro. Moreover, small-molecule agents, resembling Smac/DIABLO in function, were shown to potentiate cytotoxicity of chemotherapy in different malignancies.
IAPs, exhibiting downstream influence on both external and intrinsic pathways as well as on some caspase-independent mechanisms of apoptosis, are potentially attractive target for anti-tumor therapy, although their role in the pathology and prognosis of acute leukemia has to be further elucidated.