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Cancer Res. 2007 Jan 1;67(1):209-17.

An organometallic protein kinase inhibitor pharmacologically activates p53 and induces apoptosis in human melanoma cells.

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The Wistar Institute, 3601 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.


Unlike other tumors, melanomas harbor wild-type (WT) p53 but exhibit impaired p53-dependent apoptosis. The mechanisms for the impaired p53 activation are poorly understood but may be linked to the high expression of the p53 suppressor Mdm2, which is found in >50% of melanoma lesions. Here, we describe an organometallic glycogen synthase kinase 3beta (GSK3beta) inhibitor (DW1/2) as a potent activator of p53 and inducer of cell death in otherwise highly chemoresistant melanoma cells. Using RNA interference and pharmacologic approaches, we show that p53 is required for the cytotoxic effects of this organometallic inhibitor. The DW1/2 compound was barely able to induce cell death in melanoma cells with p53 mutations, further confirming the requirement for p53-WT in the cytotoxic effects of the GSK3beta inhibition. Mechanistic analysis of the p53-dependent cell death indicated an apoptotic mechanism involving depolarization of mitochondrial membrane potential, caspase cleavage, and elevated NOXA expression. The effect of p53 was not simply due to passive up-regulation of protein expression as adenoviral-mediated overexpression of p53 was not able to induce cell death. Treatment of melanoma cells with DW1/2 was instead found to decrease levels of Mdm2 and Mdm4. The importance of Mdm2 down-regulation in DW1/2-induced apoptosis was confirmed by treating the p53-WT cells with the p53/Mdm2 antagonist Nutlin-3. Taken together, our data provide a new strategy for the pharmacologic activation of p53 in melanoma, which may be a viable approach for overcoming apoptotic resistance in melanoma and offer new hope for rational melanoma therapy.

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