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Oncogene. 2004 Dec 9;23(57):9190-200.

Inhibition of p53-mediated transcriptional responses by mithramycin A.

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Department of Basic Sciences, University of Crete Medical School, Heraklion, GR-71110, Greece.


In the present work, we show that mithramycin A, a drug that is currently used for the treatment of patients with Paget's disease of the bone as well as with several forms of cancer, is a strong activator of the tumor suppressor p53 protein in human hepatoma cells. The time course of p53 activation by mithramycin A was similar to the known chemotherapeutic compound 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). Both 5-FU and mithramycin A induced site-specific phosphorylation of p53 at serine 15. However, in contrast to 5-FU, mithramycin A failed to activate p53 target genes including the cell cycle inhibitor p21Cip1 gene as well as the proapoptotic genes PUMA (p53-upregulated mediator of apotosis) and BAK (bcl2-homologous antagonist/killer) and blocked the induction of the above genes by 5-FU. Using transactivation assays in Sp1-deficient cells, we showed that mithramycin A inhibited the transcriptional activation of the p21Cip1 and PUMA promoters by Sp1 and p53. Using chromatin immunoprecipitation assays and a novel protein-protein interaction assay based on biotinylation in vivo, we established that 5-FU enhanced the formation of p53-Sp1 complexes in solution and the subsequent recruitment of both factors to the p21Cip1 promoter. Mithramycin A also enhanced the recruitment of p53 to the distal p21Cip1 promoter but totally blocked the recruitment of Sp1 to the proximal p21Cip1 promoter. Our findings suggest that inhibition of Sp1 binding to the promoters of several p53 target genes, such as the p21Cip1 gene as well as certain proapoptotic genes, by mithramycin A, prevents the transcriptional induction of these genes by p53 and propose a mechanism that could account for some of the tumor suppressing and antiapoptotic effects of mithramycin A.

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