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Cell Div. 2018 Dec 26;13:10. doi: 10.1186/s13008-018-0043-3. eCollection 2018.

Reactivation of TAp73 tumor suppressor by protoporphyrin IX, a metabolite of aminolevulinic acid, induces apoptosis in TP53-deficient cancer cells.

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1Department of Biotechnology, Intercollegiate Faculty of Biotechnology, University of Gdansk and Medical University of Gdansk, Abrahama 58, 80-307 Gdansk, Poland.
2Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet, Biomedicum, Solnavägen 9, 171 65 Stockholm, Sweden.
3Centre for Integrative Biology, CIBIO, University of Trento, via Sommarive 9, 38123 Trento, Italy.
4Present Address: Department of Molecular Biology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02114 USA.



The p73 protein is a tumor suppressor that shares structural and functional similarity with p53. p73 is expressed in two major isoforms; the TA isoform that interacts with p53 pathway, thus acting as tumor suppressor and the N-terminal truncated ΔN isoform that inhibits TAp73 and p53 and thus, acts as an oncogene.


By employing a drug repurposing approach, we found that protoporphyrin IX (PpIX), a metabolite of aminolevulinic acid applied in photodynamic therapy of cancer, stabilizes TAp73 and activates TAp73-dependent apoptosis in cancer cells lacking p53. The mechanism of TAp73 activation is via disruption of TAp73/MDM2 and TAp73/MDMX interactions and inhibition of TAp73 degradation by ubiquitin ligase Itch. Finally, PpIX showed potent antitumor effect and inhibited the growth of xenograft human tumors in mice.


Our findings may in future contribute to the successful repurposing of PpIX into clinical practice.


Apoptosis; Itch; MDM2; MDMX; Protoporphyrin IX; TAp73; Yeast-based assay

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