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Cancer Res. 2005 Oct 1;65(19):8920-6.

Topotecan-triggered degradation of topoisomerase I is p53-dependent and impacts cell survival.

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  • 1Institute of Toxicology, University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany.


The anticancer drug topotecan belongs to the group of topoisomerase I (topo I) inhibitors. In the presence of topotecan, topo I cleaves the DNA but is unable to religate the single-strand break. This leads to stabilization of topo I-DNA-bound complexes and the accumulation of DNA strand breaks that may interfere with DNA replication. The molecular mechanism of controlling the repair of topo I-DNA covalent complexes and its impact on sensitivity of cells to topotecan is largely unknown. Here, we used mouse embryonic fibroblasts expressing wild-type p53 and deficient in p53, in order to elucidate the role of p53 in topotecan-induced cell death. We show that p53-deficient mouse embryonic fibroblasts are significantly more sensitive to topotecan than wild-type cells, displaying a higher frequency of topotecan-induced apoptosis and DNA strand breaks. Treatment of p53 wild-type cells with pifithrin-alpha, an inhibitor of the trans-activating activity of p53, caused reversal of the phenotype, making wild-type cells more sensitive to topotecan. Upon topotecan treatment, topo I was degraded in wild-type but not in p53-deficient cells. Topo I degradation was attenuated by the proteosomal inhibitor MG132. Similar data were obtained with human glioblastoma cells. U138 cells (p53 mutated) were significantly more sensitive to topotecan than U87 cells (p53 wild-type). Furthermore, U87 cells showed significant degradation of topo I upon topotecan treatment, whereas in U138 cells, this response was abrogated. Topo I degradation was again attenuated by pifithrin-alpha. The data suggests that p53 causes resistance of cells to topo I inhibitors due to stimulation of topotecan-triggered topo I degradation which may impact topotecan-based cancer therapy.

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