Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) preferentially induces apoptosis in malignant cells by binding to the death receptors TRAIL-R1 (DR4) and TRAIL-R2 (DR5). Several agents that therapeutically exploit this phenomenon are being developed. We investigated the anticancer activity of two novel, highly specific agonistic monoclonal antibodies to TRAIL-R1 (mapatumumab, HGS-ETR1) and TRAIL-R2 (lexatumumab, HGS-ETR2) in colon cancer cell lines. Our analyses revealed that colon cancer cells display significantly higher surface expressions of TRAIL-R2 than TRAIL-R1, and are more sensitive to lexatumumab-induced apoptosis. The proapoptotic effects of lexatumumab in TRAIL-resistant HCT8 and HT29 cells were dramatically augmented by the histone deacetylase inhibitors trichostatin A or suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid. The presence of p21, but not p53, was critical for the synergy between lexatumumab and histone deacetylase inhibitors. The absence of p21 did not interfere with the formation of the death-inducing signaling complex by lexatumumab, suggesting the involvement of other apoptotic and/or cell cycle regulators. Indeed, treatment with suberoylanilide hydroxamic acid greatly reduced the expression of the inhibitor of apoptosis protein survivin and cdc2 activity in HCT116 p21(+/+) cells but not in the HCT116 p21(-/-) cells. Inhibition of cdc2 activity with flavopiridol decreased survivin expression and sensitized the p21-deficient cells to lexatumumab-induced apoptosis. Similarly, small interfering RNA-mediated knockdown of survivin also enhanced lexatumumab-mediated cell death. Therefore, survivin expression plays a key role in lexatumumab resistance, and reducing survivin expression by inhibiting cdc2 activity is a promising strategy to enhance the anticancer activity of lexatumumab.