The retinoic acid–inducible gene I (RIG-I) and melanoma differentiation–associated antigen 5 (MDA-5) helicases sense viral RNA in infected cells and initiate antiviral responses such as the production of type I IFNs. Here we have shown that RIG-I and MDA-5 also initiate a proapoptotic signaling pathway that is independent of type I IFNs. In human melanoma cells, this signaling pathway required the mitochondrial adapter Cardif (also known as IPS-1) and induced the proapoptotic BH3-only proteins Puma and Noxa. RIG-I– and MDA-5–initiated apoptosis required Noxa but was independent of the tumor suppressor p53. Triggering this pathway led to efficient activation of mitochondrial apoptosis, requiring caspase-9 and Apaf-1. Surprisingly, this proapoptotic signaling pathway was also active in nonmalignant cells, but these cells were much less sensitive to apoptosis than melanoma cells. Endogenous Bcl-xL rescued nonmalignant, but not melanoma, cells from RIG-I– and MDA-5–mediated apoptosis. In addition, we confirmed the results of the in vitro studies, demonstrating that RIG-I and MDA-5 ligands both reduced human tumor lung metastasis in immunodeficient NOD/SCID mice. These results identify an IFN-independent antiviral signaling pathway initiated by RIG-I and MDA-5 that activates proapoptotic signaling and, unless blocked by Bcl-xL, results in apoptosis. Due to their immunostimulatory and proapoptotic activity, RIG-I and MDA-5 ligands have therapeutic potential due to their ability to overcome the characteristic resistance of melanoma cells to apoptosis.


Robert Besch, Hendrik Poeck, Tobias Hohenauer, Daniela Senft, Georg Häcker, Carola Berking, Veit Hornung, Stefan Endres, Thomas Ruzicka, Simon Rothenfusser, Gunther Hartmann


Download this citation for these citation managers:

Or, download this citation in these formats:

If you experience problems using these citation formats, send us feedback.