iCasp9 suicide gene has been widely used as a promising killing strategy in various cell therapies. However, different cells show significant heterogeneity in response to apoptosis inducer, posing challenges in clinical applications of killing strategy. The cause of the heterogeneity remains elusive so far. Here, by simultaneously monitoring the dynamics of iCasp9 dimerization, Caspase3 activation and cell fate in single cells, we found that the heterogeneity was mainly due to cell-to-cell variability in initial iCasp9 expression and XIAP/Caspase3 ratio. Moreover, multiple-round drugging cannot increase the killing efficiency. Instead, it will place selective pressure on protein levels, especially on the level of initial iCasp9, leading to drug resistance. We further show this resistance can be largely eliminated by combinatorial drugging with XIAP inhibitor at the end, but not at the beginning, of the multiple-round treatments. Our results unveil the source of cell fate heterogeneity and drug resistance in iCasp9-mediated cell death, which may enlighten better therapeutic strategies for optimized killing.
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