Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common primary brain tumour in adults and one of the most aggressive cancers in man. Despite technological advances in surgical management, combined regimens of radiotherapy with new generation chemotherapy, the median survival for these patients is 14.6 months. This is largely due to a highly deregulated tumour genome with opportunistic deletion of tumour suppressor genes, amplification and/or mutational hyper-activation of receptor tyrosine kinase receptors. The net result of these genetic changes is augmented survival pathways and systematic defects in the apoptosis signalling machinery. The only randomised, controlled phase II trial conducted targeting the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) signalling with the small molecule inhibitor, erlotinib, has showed no therapeutic benefit. Survival signalling and apoptosis resistance in GBMs can be viewed as two sides of the same coin. Targeting increased survival is unlikely to be efficacious without at the same time targeting apoptosis resistance. We have critically reviewed the literature regarding survival and apoptosis signalling in GBM, and highlighted experimental, preclinical and recent clinical trials attempting to target these pathways. Combined therapies simultaneously targeting apoptosis and survival signalling defects might shift the balance from tumour growth stasis to cytotoxic therapeutic responses that might be associated with greater therapeutic benefits.
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