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Cancer Cell. 2003 Nov;4(5):371-81.

Pharmacologic activation of p53 elicits Bax-dependent apoptosis in the absence of transcription.

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Division of Cellular Immunology, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, San Diego, CA 92121, USA.


Recent efforts to develop pharmacologic agents that restore function to mutant forms of p53 hold significant promise in cancer therapy. Here, we examine the effects of such pharmacologic activation of p53 function using a small molecule, PRIMA-1, and a model system employing a p53 protein fused to a mutant steroid binding domain of the murine estrogen receptor (p53ERtam) that renders it responsive only in the presence of 4-hydroxytamoxifen. In either case, p53 activation triggered apoptosis that was not inhibited by the presence of macromolecular synthesis inhibitors. This p53-induced, transcription-independent apoptosis is Bax dependent, proceeds in the absence of a nucleus, and involves Bax translocation and cytochrome c release. Hence, pharmacologic p53 modulators can activate a transcription-independent apoptotic program.

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