Cyclic pifithrin-α sensitizes wild type p53 tumor cells to antimicrotubule agent-induced apoptosis

Valentina Zuco, Franco Zunino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As a consequence of multiple functions of p53, its activation in response to cytotoxic stress may have proapoptotic or protective effects depending on the nature of lesions. We have previously shown that mutational inactivation of p53 results in sensitization to paclitaxel. In this study, we used cyclic pifithrin-α, a transcriptional inhibitor of p53, to further investigate the relevance of p53 function in the response of tumor cells to microtubule inhibitors. Using drug concentrations causing only antiproliferative effects, the combination of antimicrotubule agents with subtoxic pifithrin-α doses resulted in increase of sensitivity of two wild type p53 cell lines, associated with a substantial M phase cell accumulation and marked sensitization to apoptosis. Pifithrin-α had no sensitizing effect in p53 defective cells or a marginal effect in normal human fibroblasts. The apoptotic response to the combination was concomitant with p21 down-regulation, Polo-like kinase 1 up-regulation, p34cdc2 kinase dephosphorylation, and cdc25C phosphatase phosphorylation, supporting mitotic arrest. Sensitization to paclitaxel-induced apoptosis was also achieved by p53-siRNA transfection in wild type p53 H460 cells. Pifithrin-α did not enhance the apoptotic response after p53 down-regulation. The results support a protective role of the transcriptional activity of p53 in response to mitotic spindle damage. The inhibition of transcriptional activity of p53 may have therapeutic implications in the treatment of p53 wild type tumors with antimitotic agents.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-596
Number of pages10
JournalNeoplasia (United States)
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research


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