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Clin Cancer Res. 2009 Jun 15;15(12):4077-84. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-08-2955. Epub 2009 Jun 9.

Restoration of p53 pathway by nutlin-3 induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in human rhabdomyosarcoma cells.

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Department of Pediatrics, Graduate School of Medical Science, Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine, Kyoto, Japan.



Seventy to eighty percent of rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) tumors retain wild-type p53. The tumor suppressor p53 plays a central role in inducing cell cycle arrest or apoptosis in response to various stresses. p53 protein levels are regulated by MDM2 through ubiquitin-dependent degradation. In this study, we evaluated whether nutlin-3, a recently developed small-molecule antagonist of MDM2, has an effect on p53-dependent cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in cultured human RMS cell lines.


Five RMS cell lines with different p53 statuses and MDM2 expression levels were treated with nutlin-3. Gene expression patterns, cell viability, cell cycle, and apoptosis after nutlin-3 treatment, and antitumor activity of combination treatment with vincristine or actinomycin D were assessed.


Significant p53 activation was observed in wild-type p53 cell lines after nutlin-3 treatment. p53 activation led to cell cycle arrest in parallel with increased p21 expression. Furthermore, these cell lines underwent p53-dependent apoptosis, concomitant with elevation of proapoptotic genes and activation of caspase-3. The effect of nutlin-3 was almost the same in terms of half maximal inhibitory concentration and apoptosis whether or not MDM2 was overexpressed. Nutlin-3 did not induce either cell cycle arrest or apoptosis in p53 mutant cell lines. A combination of vincristine or actinomycin D with nutlin-3 enhanced the antitumor activity in RMS cell lines with wild-type p53.


Nutlin-3 effectively restored p53 function in both normal MDM2 expression and MDM2 overexpression RMS cell lines with wild-type p53. p53 restoration therapy is a potential therapeutic strategy for refractory RMS with wild-type p53.

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