Transcriptional silencing of tumor suppressor genes by DNA methylation occurs in cancer cell lines and in human tumors. This has led to the pursuit of DNA methyltransferase inhibition as a drug target. 5-Aza-2′-deoxycytidine [5-aza-CdR (decitabine)], a potent inhibitor of DNA methyltransferase, is a drug currently in clinical trials for the treatment of solid tumors and leukemia. The efficacy of 5-aza-CdR may be related to the induction of methylation-silenced tumor suppressor genes, genomic hypomethylation, and/or enzyme-DNA adduct formation. Here, we test the hypothesis that 5-aza-CdR treatment is perceived as DNA damage, as assessed by the activation of the tumor suppressor p53. We show that 1) colon tumor cell lines expressing wild-type p53 are more sensitive to 5-aza-CdR mediated growth arrest and cytotoxicity; 2) the response to 5-aza-CdR treatment includes the induction and activation of wild-type but not mutant p53 protein; and 3) the induction of the downstream p53 target gene p21 is partially p53-dependent. The induction of p53 protein after 5-aza-CdR treatment did not correlate with an increase in p53 transcripts, indicating that hypomethylation at the p53 promoter does not account for the p53 response. It is relevant that 5-aza-CdR has shown the greatest promise in clinical trials for the treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia, a malignancy in which functional p53 is often retained. Our data raise the hypothesis that p53 activation may contribute to the clinical efficacy and/or toxicity of 5-aza-CdR.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine