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Br J Cancer. 1999 May;80(5-6):693-8.

Ceramide triggers p53-dependent apoptosis in genetically defined fibrosarcoma tumour cells.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland.


p53 mutations are among the most common genetic alterations in human cancer and are frequently described in intrinsic or acquired radio- and chemotherapy resistance. Radiation-induced cell kill is not only mediated by DNA damage but also by the activation of signal transduction cascades generated at the plasma membrane like the sphingomyelin pathway. We used genetically defined wild-type p53 or p53-deficient mouse fibrosarcoma cells to investigate the p53-dependence of tumour response upon activation of the sphingomyelin pathway. Treatment of the tumour cells with neutral sphingomyelinase drastically reduced the amount of wild-type p53 fibrosarcoma cell proliferation over 72 h in a clear dose-response (0.2-1.0 U ml(-1) nSMase). Sphingomyelinase had no effect on cell proliferation in tumour cells lacking p53. Similarly, cell proliferation was abolished by C2-ceramide (5-20 microM) only in wild-type p53 cells. FACS-analysis revealed that C2-ceramide induced massive p53-dependent apoptosis (40-50% after 12-24 h) and cell cycle analysis showed a transient G1 arrest in p53-deficient tumour cells 12-24 h after C2-ceramide exposure. These results suggest that ceramide-induced apoptosis in tumour cells can be dependent on the status of p53 and imply that p53 is also important for stress-induced apoptotic signal transduction cascades generated at the plasma membrane.

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