The beneficial effect of Zinc(II) on low-dose chemotherapeutic sensitivity involves p53 activation in wild-type p53-carrying colorectal cancer cells

Alessia Garufi, Valentina Ubertini, Francesca Mancini, Valerio D'Orazi, Silvia Baldari, Fabiola Moretti, Gianluca Bossi, Gabriella D'Orazi

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Background: Activation of wild-type p53 in response to genotoxic stress occurs through different mechanisms including protein conformation, posttranslational modifications, and nuclear localization, leading to DNA binding to sequence-specific promoters. Zinc ion plays a crucial role in stabilizing p53/DNA binding to induce canonical target genes. Mutant p53 proteins undergo protein misfolding that can be counteracted by zinc. However, whether zinc supplementation might have a beneficial antitumor effect in wild-type p53-carrying cells in combination with drugs, has not been addressed so far. Methods: In this study we compared the effect of two antitumor treatments: on the one hand wild-type p53-carrying colon cancer cells were treated with low and high doses of chemotherapeutic agent Adriamycin and, on the other hand, Adriamycin was used in combination with ZnCl2. Biochemical and molecular analyses were applied to evaluate p53 activity and biological outcomes in this setting. Finally, the effect of the different combination treatments were applied to assess tumor growth in vivo in tumor xenografts. Results: We found that low-dose Adriamycin did not induce p53 activation in wtp53-carrying colon cancer cells, unless in combination with ZnCl2. Mechanistically, ZnCl2 was a key determinant in inducing wtp53/DNA binding and transactivation of target genes in response to low-dose Adriamycin that used alone did not achieve such effects. Finally, in vivo studies, in a model of wtp53 colon cancer xenograft, show that low-dose Adriamycin did not induce tumor regression unless in combination with ZnCl2 that activated endogenous wtp53. Conclusions: These results provide evidence that ZnCl2 might be a valuable adjuvant in chemotherapeutic regimens of colorectal cancer harboring wild-type p53, able to both activate p53 and reduce the amount of drugs for antitumor purposes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number87
JournalJournal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 22 2015



  • Colon cancer
  • DNA binding
  • Gene expression
  • wtp53 activation
  • Zinc supplementation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology

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