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Br J Dermatol. 2009 Mar;160(3):519-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.2008.08931.x. Epub 2008 Nov 25.

Bexarotene activates the p53/p73 pathway in human cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.

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Department of Cell Biology and Histology, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of the Basque Country, Leioa 48940, Bizkaia, Spain.



Bexarotene is the first synthetic retinoid X receptor-selective retinoid (rexinoid) approved for the treatment of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL). However, little is known about the signalling pathways by which it exerts its anticarcinogenic effect.


To characterize the effects of bexarotene in CTCL cell lines and elucidate the underlying molecular pathways of its antineoplastic effect.


The cell lines Hut-78, HH and MJ were used. Cell viability was assessed with the XTT assay. The self-renewal potential of cells after bexarotene treatment was studied with the methylcellulose clonogenic assay. Flow cytometry was used to analyse the effects on cell cycle, Ki-67 expression and apoptosis induction. Cell cycle and apoptosis-related protein expression were determined by Western blot and immunofluorescence.


Bexarotene induced a loss of viability and more pronounced inhibition of clonogenic proliferation in HH and Hut-78 cells, whereas the MJ line exhibited resistance. Bexarotene upregulated and activated Bax in sensitive lines, although not enough to signal significant apoptosis. Instead, all data point to the inhibition of proliferation, rather than apoptosis, as the main mechanistic action of the rexinoid. Bexarotene signals both G(1) and G(2)/M arrest by the modulation of critical checkpoint proteins. We further found that bexarotene activates p53 by phosphorylation at Ser15, which influences the binding of p53 to promoters for cell cycle arrest, induces p73 upregulation, and, in concordance, also modulates some p53/p73 downstream target genes, such as p21, Bax, survivin and cdc2. Bexarotene-mediated ataxia telangiectasia mutated protein (ATM) activation in all studied lines suggests that ATM is likely to be the p53/p73 upstream activator.


Our data indicate for the first time that bexarotene exerts its effect in CTCL mainly by triggering the p53/p73-dependent cell cycle inhibition pathway, probably by upstream ATM activation. Therefore, bexarotene-modulated genes represent potential biomarkers to assess the response to treatment of patients with CTCL.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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