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Cell Cycle. 2011 Jul 15;10(14):2380-9. Epub 2011 Jul 15.

The relative contribution of pro-apoptotic p53-target genes in the triggering of apoptosis following DNA damage in vitro and in vivo.

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Hematology/Oncology Division, Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and College of Medicine, Hershey, PA, USA.


The p53 pathway displays a large degree of redundancy in the expression of a number of pro-apoptotic mechanisms following DNA damage that, among others, involves increased expression of several pro-apoptotic genes through transactivation. Spatial and temporal cellular contexts contribute to the complexity of the regulation of apoptosis, hence different genes may show a cell- and tissue-dependent specificity with regard to the regulation of cell death and act in concert or show redundancy with one and another. We used siRNA technology to assess the effect of multiple ablations of documented pro-apoptotic p53 target genes (PPG) in the colorectal cancer cell line HCT116 and generated mice deficient in both of the extrinsic and intrinsic PPGs genes Dr5 and Puma following treatment with chemotherapeutics and ionizing radiation. DR5, Fas, Bax, Bad, Puma and Bnip3L were induced by 5-FU and adriamycin (ADR) in HCT116 cells in a p53-dependent manner. The resulting caspase 3/7 activity in HCT116 cells following treatment were suppressed by ablated expression of the PPGs in the extrinsic as well as the intrinsic pathway. To our surprise, knocking-down any of the PPGs concomitantly with DR5 did not further inhibit caspase 3/7 activity whereas inhibiting DR5-expression in HCT116Bax knockdown (kd) and HCT116Fas kd did, suggesting that these genes act downstream or in synergy with DR5. This was supported by our in vivo observations, since Puma and Dr5 were equally efficient in protecting cells of the spleen from sub-lethal radiation-induced apoptosis but less effective compared with irradiated p53-/- mice. To our surprise, Dr5-/-; Puma-/- mice did not show additive protection from radiation-induced apoptosis in any of the investigated organs. Our data indicates that the intrinsic pathway may rely on extrinsic signals to promote cell death in a cell- and tissue-dependent manner following DNA damage. Furthermore, p53 must rely on mechanisms independent of DR5 and PUMA to initiate apoptosis following γ-radiation in the spleen and thymus in vivo.

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