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Oncogene. 2001 Jun 7;20(26):3387-98.

p21 Waf1/Cip1 can protect human colon carcinoma cells against p53-dependent and p53-independent apoptosis induced by natural chemopreventive and therapeutic agents.

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Internal Medicine IV, Building 47, University of Saarland Medical School, D-66421 Homburg/Saar, Germany.


The molecular basis for the sensitivity of tumor cells to chemopreventive natural food compounds and commonly used chemotherapeutic agents is not well understood, not least because studies are frequently confounded by the diversity among cell lines or rely on experimental protein overexpression. Here we investigated the effects of n-butyrate, a cancer-preventive short-chain fatty acid produced by anaerobic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, on the human wild-type p53 and p21 expressing HCT116 colon carcinoma cell line and on HCT116 cells with either p53 or p21 alleles inactivated by homologous recombination. The effects of n-butyrate were then compared with those elicited by cytotoxic drugs and the natural chemopreventive phytoalexin of wine and grapes, resveratrol. We document that physiological concentrations of n-butyrate stimulate p21 expression and induce apoptosis independently of p53, and that the absence of p21 increases apoptosis drastically. The apoptosis is mediated through the mitochondria and is accompanied by mitochondrial proliferation and membrane potential changes. Adriamycin, etoposide, cisplatinum, colcemid and resveratrol induce distinct cellular responses; however, absence of p21 favors apoptosis-induction by adriamycin, etoposide and colcemid. Thus, control of p21 expression may support chemoprevention and certain tumor therapies.

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