The RNA helicase DHX33 has been found to be overexpressed in human cancers, where it promotes cancer development. Previous reports have shown that DHX33 deficiency caused cancer cell apoptosis, but the underlying mechanism remains unknown. In this study, we discovered that DHX33 regulates Bcl-2 family protein expression. In multiple human cancer cell lines, DHX33 was found to stimulate the transcription of Bcl-2. Mechanistically, we found that DHX33 interacts with the AP-2β transcription factor and acts as a coactivator to stimulate Bcl-2 gene transcription. DHX33 deficiency abolished the loading of AP-2β onto the promoter of Bcl-2 and thereby reduced the recruitment of active RNA polymerase II during transcription initiation. Acute knockdown of DHX33 in multiple human cancer cells caused decreased Bcl-2 protein level, which ultimately triggered mitochondrion-mediated cellular apoptosis. In addition, we found that normal human lung and mammary epithelial cells were less sensitive to acute DHX33 knockdown, implying that cancer cells are uniquely responsive to DHX33 reduction. These data support the notion that disruption of DHX33 function could be an important application for cancer therapy.

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