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Leukemia. 2011 May;25(5):856-67. doi: 10.1038/leu.2011.28. Epub 2011 Mar 11.

Activation of the p53 pathway by the MDM2 inhibitor nutlin-3a overcomes BCL2 overexpression in a preclinical model of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma associated with t(14;18)(q32;q21).

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Department of Hematopathology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


p53 is frequently wild type (wt) in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) associated with t(14;18)(q32;q21) that overexpresses BCL2. Nutlin-3a is a small molecule that activates the p53 pathway by disrupting p53-MDM2 interaction. We show that nutlin-3a activates p53 in DLBCL cells associated with t(14;18)(q32;q21), BCL2 overexpression and wt p53, resulting in cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Nutlin-3a treatment had similar effects on DLBCL cells of activated B-cell phenotype with wt p53. Cell cycle arrest was associated with upregulation of p21. Nutlin-3a-induced apoptosis was accompanied by BAX and PUMA upregulation, BCL-XL downregulation, serine-70 dephosphorylation of BCL2, direct binding of BCL2 by p53, caspase-9 upregulation and caspase-3 cleavage. Cell death was reduced when p53-dependent transactivation activity was inhibited by pifithrin-α (PFT-α), or PFT-μ inhibited direct p53 targeting of mitochondria. Nutlin-3a sensitized activation of the intrinsic apoptotic pathway by BCL2 inhibitors in t(14;18)-positive DLBCL cells with wt p53, and enhanced doxorubicin cytotoxicity against t(14;18)-positive DLBCL cells with wt or mutant p53, the latter in part via p73 upregulation. Nutlin-3a treatment in a xenograft animal lymphoma model inhibited growth of t(14;18)-positive DLBCL tumors, associated with increased apoptosis and decreased proliferation. These data suggest that disruption of the p53-MDM2 interaction by nutlin-3a offers a novel therapeutic approach for DLBCL associated with t(14;18)(q32;q21).

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