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Nat Chem Biol. 2006 Apr;2(4):202-6. Epub 2006 Feb 13.

An shRNA barcode screen provides insight into cancer cell vulnerability to MDM2 inhibitors.

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Division of Molecular Carcinogenesis and Center for Biomedical Genetics, The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Plesmanlaan 121, 1066 CX Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The identification of the cellular targets of small molecules with anticancer activity is crucial to their further development as drug candidates. Here, we present the application of a large-scale RNA interference-based short hairpin RNA (shRNA) barcode screen to gain insight in the mechanism of action of nutlin-3 (1). Nutlin-3 is a small-molecule inhibitor of MDM2, which can activate the p53 pathway. Nutlin-3 shows strong antitumor effects in mice, with surprisingly few side effects on normal tissues. Aside from p53, we here identify 53BP1 as a critical mediator of nutlin-3-induced cytotoxicity. 53BP1 is part of a signaling network induced by DNA damage that is frequently activated in cancer but not in healthy tissues. Our results suggest that nutlin-3's tumor specificity may result from its ability to turn a cancer cell-specific property (activated DNA damage signaling) into a weakness that can be exploited therapeutically.

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