PRIMA-1MET/APR-246 targets mutant forms of p53 family members p63 and p73

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The low molecular weight compound PRIMA-1 and the structural analog PRIMA-1MET, also named APR-246, reactivate mutant p53 through covalent binding to the core domain and induce apoptosis in tumor cells. Here, we asked whether PRIMA-1MET/APR-246 can rescue mutant forms of the p53 family members p63 and p73 that share high sequence homology with p53. We found that PRIMA-1MET/APR-246 can restore the pro-apoptotic function to mutant TAp63γ and TAp73β in tumor cells but has less effect on TAp73α. Moreover, PRIMA-1MET/APR-246-stimulated DNA binding of mutant TAp63γ and induced expression of the p53/p63/p73 downstream targets p21 and Noxa. The reactivation of mutant p53, p63 and p73 by PRIMA-1MET/APR-246 indicates a common mechanism, presumably involving homologous structural elements in the p53 family proteins. Our findings may open avenues for therapeutic intervention in human developmental disorders with mutations in p63.


The p53 gene family has three members, TP53, TP63 and TP73. The tumor suppressor p53 is expressed at low levels in most cells and tissues but accumulates on cellular stress such as DNA damage, oncogene activation and hypoxia, and triggers cell cycle arrest, senescence and/or apoptosis (for a review, see Vousden and Lu (2002)). Mutations in p53 occur in nearly half of all human tumors (Olivier et al., 2002). p63 and p73 share structural homology with p53, particularly in their DNA-binding domains, with >60% amino acid identity (Kaghad et al., 1997; Schmale and Bamberger, 1997; Osada et al., 1998; Trink et al., 1998; Yang et al., 1998; Zeng et al., 2001). All three proteins take part in the regulation of cell cycle progression and apoptosis, and are expressed as several different isoforms because of alternative promoter usage and splicing. The full-length proteins (p53, TAp63 and TAp73) function as transcription factors. p63 and p73 are commonly expressed as so called ΔN isoforms that lack the N-terminal transactivation (TA) domain. The ΔN isoforms can block the TA activity of the full-length proteins by forming complexes or by competing for DNA-binding sites (Grob et al., 2001; Stiewe et al., 2002; Chan et al., 2004). Several studies have also shown that ΔNp63 can activate transcription through an additional N-terminal TA domain (Ghioni et al., 2002; Helton et al., 2006).

Mice null for p63 or p73 show severe developmental or neurological and immunological defects, respectively, and die at young age, thus making it difficult to evaluate the effect of p63 and p73 on cancer susceptibility (Mills et al., 1999; Yang et al., 1999, 2000; Suh et al., 2006). Although p63 and p73 are rarely mutated in human tumors (Strano et al., 2001), inactivation of p63 or p73 can contribute to tumor development in mice, and loss of p63 and p73 can cooperate with p53 in tumor suppression (Flores et al., 2005; Guo et al., 2009). A recent study demonstrated that TAp63 knockout mice show enhanced genomic instability and premature aging as well as defects in maintaining skin proliferation and differentiation (Su et al., 2009). Mice with an isoform-specific deletion of TAp73 show a high incidence of spontaneous tumors and increased sensitivity to carcinogens, establishing TAp73 as a bona fide tumor suppressor (Tomasini et al., 2008). Methylation-induced silencing of the TAp73 promoter has been found in lymphoblastic leukemias and Burkitt lymphomas (Corn et al., 1999; Kawano et al., 1999). The ΔNp73 and TAp73 isoforms are co-upregulated in primary rhabdomyosarcomas and tumor-derived cell lines, as compared with normal muscle (Cam et al., 2006). ΔNp73 isoforms are expressed at high levels in many different tumor types and are related to poor prognosis (Buhlmann and Putzer, 2008). Thus, accumulating evidence clearly indicates that both TAp63 and TP73 may have a role in tumor development.

We previously identified PRIMA-1, a low molecular weight compound that triggers apoptosis in human tumor cells through restoration of the transcriptional TA function to both structural and DNA contact mutant p53 (Bykov et al., 2002a, 2002b). PRIMA-1MET/APR-246 (2-hydroxymethyl-2-methoxymethyl-aza-bicyclo[2.2.2]octan-3-one) is a methylated form of PRIMA-1 with even higher potency (Bykov et al., 2005b). We will henceforth refer to it as PRIMA-1MET. PRIMA-1MET induces mutant p53-dependent apoptosis via multiple signaling pathways including upregulation of mitochondrial p53 target proteins such as Bax, Puma, and Noxa, activation of caspase-2, and ER stress (Shen et al., 2008; Lambert et al., 2010). PRIMA-1 has also been shown to trigger mutant p53-mediated transcription-independent apoptosis (Chipuk et al., 2003). Treatment with PRIMA-1MET induces nucleolar accumulation of mutant p53 and the PML nuclear body (PML-NB) associated proteins PML, CBP and Hsp70, which probably has a role in PRIMA-1MET-induced apoptosis (Rökaeus et al., 2007). Recently, we demonstrated that PRIMA-1 and PRIMA-1MET are converted to MQ, a Michael acceptor that binds covalently to the p53 core domain in vitro and in vivo and thus triggers mutant p53-dependent apoptosis (Lambert et al., 2009). Here, we show that PRIMA-1MET targets mutant forms of p63 and p73. PRIMA-1MET treatment causes upregulation of p53/p63/p73-target genes and a redistribution of mutant p63 to PML-NBs and nucleoli, and induces mutant p63/p73-dependent apoptosis.


Mutant p63/p73-dependent growth suppression and induction of apoptosis by PRIMA-1MET

To study whether PRIMA-1MET could suppress the growth of tumor cells in a mutant p63/p73-dependent manner, we treated H1299 cells stably expressing temperature-sensitive (ts) mutant TAp73α (H1299-tsp73α), TAp73β (H1299-tsp73β) and TAp63γ (H1299-tsp63γ) and parental H1299 cells with 0–40 μM PRIMA-1MET for 24 h at 39 °C and examined cell growth using the WST-1 cell proliferation reagent. Treatment of cells expressing ts mutant TAp63γ and TAp73β with PRIMA-1MET at 39 °C resulted in significant growth suppression as compared with H1299 control cells (Figures 1a and b). Expression of the ts mutant TAp73α did not confer any significant increase in sensitivity to PRIMA-1MET compared with control cells. PRIMA-1MET also inhibited growth of Saos-2 cells stably expressing ts mutant TAp63/TAp73 (data not shown).

Figure 1

PRIMA-1MET suppresses growth and induces apoptosis in tumor cells in a mutant p63/p73-dependent fashion. (a,b) PRIMA-1MET suppressed growth more potently in H1299 cells expressing ts mutant TAp73β or TAp63γ than in the parental H1299 cells. Cell viability was assessed using the WST-1 cell proliferation reagent after 24 h of PRIMA-1MET treatment at 39 °C. (c,d) H1299 cells expressing ts mutant TAp73β or TAp63γ were more sensitive to PRIMA-1MET-induced cell death compared with parental H1299 cells. Cells were treated with PRIMA-1MET for 18 h at 39 °C, stained with propidium iodide and analyzed by FACS. (e,f) PRIMA-1MET-induced substantial caspase activation in H1299 cells expressing ts mutant TAp73β or TAp63γ as compared with parental and mutant TAp73α-expressing H1299 cells. Results from three independent experiments were used to calculate mean±s.e. in all three assays.

To test whether PRIMA-1MET could restore the apoptosis-inducing function of ts p63/p73 mutants, we analyzed cell survival after treatment with PRIMA-1MET by propidium iodide staining and fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis. Analysis of the DNA content profile of H1299, H1299-tsp73α, H1299-tsp73β and H1299-tsp63γ cells treated with 0–150 μM PRIMA-1MET for 18 h at 39 °C showed that PRIMA-1MET enhanced the fraction of cells with sub-G1 DNA content in the presence of ts mutant p73/p63, indicating DNA fragmentation and cell death (Figures 1c and d). H1299-tsp63γ and H1299-tsp73β cells were more sensitive to PRIMA-1MET-induced cell death compared with H1299-tsp73α cells. Furthermore, active caspase-positive cells were assessed by FACS after treating H1299, H1299-tsp73α, H1299-tsp73β and H1299-tsp63γ cells with 0–100 μM PRIMA-1MET for 18 h at 39 °C. H1299-tsp73β and H1299-tsp63γ cells showed a dramatic increase in number of active caspase-positive cells compared with H1299 cells, indicating cell death by apoptosis (Figures 1e and f), whereas the H1299-tsp73α cells were fairly resistant to PRIMA-1MET-induced apoptosis.

Upregulation of p21 mRNA and protein by PRIMA-1MET

Western blot analysis verified that the ts p63/p73-mutants were transcriptionally inactive at 39 °C but adopted a transcriptionally active conformation resulting in induction of p21 on temperature shift to 32 °C (Figure 2a). To test whether PRIMA-1MET could act at the transcription level as well, we treated H1299, H1299-tsp73α, H1299-tsp73β and H1299-tsp63γ cells at 39 °C and studied the effect on p21 mRNA and protein levels by real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR and western blot analysis. We found that PRIMA-1MET-induced p21 both at the mRNA and protein level in cells expressing ts TAp73β and TAp63γ, but not in H1299-tsp73α cells (Figures 2b and c). Some p21 mRNA induction was also observed in H1299 cells. Moreover, real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR showed a weak induction of Bax mRNA in H1299-tsp73β cells treated with 50 μM PRIMA-1MET (data not shown).

Figure 2

PRIMA-1MET induces expression of p21 in a mutant p63/p73-dependent manner. (a) Western blot analysis verified that the ts p63/p73 mutants were transcriptionally inactive at 39 °C and became transcriptionally active at 32 °C, resulting in upregulation of p21. (b) Real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR after 8 h of PRIMA-1MET treatment demonstrated induction of p21 mRNA. The results from three independent experiments were used to calculate mean±s.e. (c) Western blot analysis showed upregulation of p21 protein in H1299-tsp63γ and H1299-tsp73β cells after 16 h of PRIMA-1MET treatment.

PRIMA-1MET targets point mutant p63 and p73

We next generated expression vectors for the mutants TAp63γ-R204W, TAp63γ-R304W, TAp73α-R193H and TAp73β-R193H that correspond to p53 hot spot mutations at residues 175 and 273. We transiently transfected HCT116 p53−/− cells with these mutants, treated the transfected cells with PRIMA-1MET for 24 h and assessed the fraction of annexin V-positive cells by FACS. PRIMA-1MET caused a significant increase in the number of annexin V-positive cells among the cells expressing mutant p63 or p73 as compared with empty vector control cells (Supplementary Figure 1).

To further examine the effect of PRIMA-1MET in the presence or absence of mutant p63, we generated individual clones of Saos-2 cells stably expressing Tet-inducible (Tet-On) TAp63γ-R204W or TAp63γ-R304W. These mutations in the p63 DNA-binding domain are associated with the EEC syndrome (Rinne et al., 2007). Western blotting revealed a robust increase in p63 protein expression on addition of doxycycline in all cell lines (Figures 3b and c, and data not shown). However, p63 was also expressed at significant levels in the absence of doxycycline in clone TAp63γ-R304W-29 (Figure 3b). p63 expression in the absence of doxycycline in clones TAp63γ-R204W-16 and TAp63γ-R304W-2 could only be visualized after much longer exposure (Figure 3c).

Figure 3

(a) Schematic representation of p53/p63/p73 isoforms. The main functional domains are the N-terminal TA domain, the DNA-binding domain (DBD), and the oligomerization domain (Oligo). Additional domains include the proline-rich domain (PRD), the basic domain (BD), the sterile α motif and the transcription inhibitory domain (TID). Hot spot mutations in p53 and corresponding mutations in p63 and p73 are indicated in red. Full-length p53 is shown for comparison. (b) Western blot analysis showing mutant p63 expression in Saos-2 cells carrying Tet-inducible TAp63γ-R204W (clones 4 and 16) or TAp63γ-R304W (clones 2 and 29) in the absence (−) or presence (+) of doxycycline. Numbers indicate quantification of p63 expression by image densitometry. (c) Western blot analysis showing expression of mutant p63 in the absence of doxycycline on long exposure.

All cell lines were treated with PRIMA-1MET for 72 h, and cell proliferation was assessed by WST-1 reagent. We observed that PRIMA-1MET suppressed cell growth in a mutant p63-dependent manner in all TAp63γ clones (Figure 4a). Moreover, treatment with PRIMA-1MET increased the fraction of mutant TAp63γ-expressing Saos-2 cells with a sub-G1 DNA content (Figure 4b) and active caspases (data not shown), indicating cell death by apoptosis. This effect was more pronounced in the presence than in the absence of doxycycline for the TAp63γ-R304W-2 and TAp63γ-R304W-29 cells, confirming that expression of mutant p63 conferred increased sensitivity to PRIMA-1MET-induced apoptosis (Figure 4b, right panel). For the TAp63γ-R204W-expressing cells, we observed a significant increase in cells in the G1 phase and a decreased S-phase fraction, indicating that this mutant promotes cell cycle arrest in response to PRIMA-1MET treatment (Figure 4c and Supplementary table 1).

Figure 4

PRIMA-1MET suppresses growth and induces a sub-G1 cell population in Saos-2 tumor cells expressing naturally occurring p63 mutants. (a) PRIMA-1MET suppressed growth in Saos-2 cells expressing Tet-inducible naturally occurring mutant forms of p63, that is, TAp63γ-R204W and TAp63γ-R304W. Cell viability was assessed using the WST-1 proliferation reagent after 72 h of PRIMA-1MET treatment. (b) FACS analysis of the sub-G1 fraction of TAp63γ-R204W and TAp63γ-R304W-expressing cells 30 h after treatment with PRIMA-1MET in the presence and absence of doxycycline. (c) FACS analysis of the cell cycle distribution of TAp63γ-R204W-expressing cells 30 h after PRIMA-1MET treatment. Data from three independent experiments were used to calculate mean±s.e. in both assays.

PRIMA-1MET causes redistribution of mutant p63

We previously found that PRIMA-1MET treatment causes a nucleolar accumulation of mutant p53, along with PML, CBP and Hsp70 (Rökaeus et al., 2007). To study whether PRIMA-1MET affects the subcellular localization of mutant p63, we treated Saos-2-Tet-TAp63γ-R204W, Saos-2-Tet-TAp63γ-R304W cells with PRIMA-1MET and examined the cellular distribution of p63 by immunofluorescence staining. Treatment with PRIMA-1MET induced a redistribution of both p63 mutants to PML-NBs and nucleoli in up to 40% of the cells. The relocalization was partial, with a fraction of mutant p63 remaining in nucleoplasm after treatment (Supplementary Figure 2 and data not shown). Treatment with PRIMA-Dead, a structural analog of PRIMA-1MET that is inactive with regard to induction of apoptosis did not induce any changes in mutant p63 distribution (data not shown). Moreover, treatment with cisplatin or the mutant p53-targeting compound MIRA-1 (Bykov et al., 2005a), did not induce cellular redistribution of mutant p63 to any significant extent in these cells (data not shown).

PRIMA-1MET stimulates mutant p63 DNA binding and upregulates p63 target genes

To test whether PRIMA-1MET could affect transcription of p63 target genes, we treated Saos-2-Tet-Ctrl, Saos-2-Tet-TAp63γ-R204W and Saos-2-Tet-TAp63γ-R304W cells with PRIMA-1MET and examined Noxa mRNA by real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR. PRIMA-1MET-induced Noxa mRNA after 16 h of treatment in both the TAp63γ-R204W-16 and TAp63γ-R304W-29 mutant p63-expressing cells (Figure 5a). To examine the DNA binding of mutant p63, we extracted nuclear lysates from TAp63γ-R204W and TAp63γ-R304W cells treated with PRIMA-1MET and performed a modified TransAM enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Bound p63 was detected with a primary antibody against p63 and a horseradish peroxidase-linked secondary antibody. We observed an increased p63 DNA binding in PRIMA-1MET-treated cells (Figure 5b). A nuclear extract from Saos-2 cells transiently transfected with wild-type TAp63γ DNA was used as positive control (Figure 5c).

Figure 5

PRIMA-1MET induces expression of Noxa and enhances mutant p63 DNA binding. (a) Real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR analysis after 16 h of PRIMA-1MET treatment revealed induction of Noxa in Saos-2 cells expressing TAp63γ-R204W or TAp63γ-R304W as compared with empty vector control cells. Results from three independent experiments were used to calculate mean±s.e. (b) TransAM assay after 16 h of 25 μM PRIMA-1MET treatment revealed increased binding of mutant p63 to a p53/p63 consensus oligonucleotide in Saos-2 cells expressing TAp63γ-R204W or TAp63γ-R304W cells. (c) As a control, the TransAM assay showed increased binding of wild-type p63 to a p53/p63 consensus oligonucleotide in Saos-2 cells transiently transfected with wild-type TAp63γ for 20 h.

We next examined protein levels of the p63 downstream targets p21, Noxa and keratin 14 after PRIMA-1MET treatment. Western blot analysis revealed induction of both p21 and Noxa by PRIMA-1MET in a mutant p63-dependent manner (Figure 6a). Induction of Noxa protein was confirmed by immunofluoresence staining (Figure 6b). We also observed a modest but significant induction of keratin 14 protein expression after treatment with PRIMA-1MET at concentrations that did not induce apoptosis (5 up to 20 μM) (Figure 6c, left panel; data not shown). Keratin 14 was also induced in Saos-2 cells transiently transfected with a wild-type TAp63γ construct (0.5 up to 1 μg) (Figure 6c, right panel; data not shown). We did not detect any keratin 14 induction after transfection with higher amounts of wild-type TAp63γ plasmid (>2 μg) that induced cell death (data not shown).

Figure 6

PRIMA-1MET induces Noxa, p21 and keratin 14 protein expression in cells expressing mutant p63. (a) Western blot analysis showed induction of Noxa and p21 in Saos-2 cells expressing TAp63γ-R204W or TAp63γ-R304W after treatment with 25 μM PRIMA-1MET for 8, 16 and 24 h. (b) Immunofluorescence staining confirmed induction of Noxa in Saos-2 cells expressing TAp63γ-R204W or TAp63γ-R304W after 24 h of PRIMA-1MET treatment. (c) Flow cytometry analysis showed induction of keratin 14 in Saos-2-TAp63γ-R204W cells with treatment of 5 μM PRIMA-1MET for 24 h (left panel) or Saos-2 cells transiently transfected with wtTAp63γ (right panel).


The low molecular weight compounds PRIMA-1 and PRIMA-1MET/APR-246 restore wild-type function to mutant p53 and trigger mutant p53-dependent apoptosis (Bykov et al., 2002b). As the DNA-binding domains of p53, p63 and p73 share high sequence homology, we hypothesized that PRIMA-1MET might be active against mutant forms of p63 and p73 as well. Our analysis of ts mutants of p63 and p73 revealed that mutant TAp73β and TAp63γ but not TAp73α conferred increased sensitivity to PRIMA-1MET treatment. Moreover, transient overexpression of mutant TAp73α or TAp73β in HCT116 p53−/− cells showed that although both mutant TAp73α and TAp73β could enhance apoptosis after PRIMA-1MET treatment, mutant TAp73β was more potent than mutant TAp73α in this regard. Finally using Saos-2 cells stably expressing Tet-regulated mutant TAp63γ-R204W or TAp63γ-R304W, we show that PRIMA-1MET can restore either growth suppression or apoptotic functions to mutant TAp63γ. Thus, our analysis demonstrates significant differences among mutant p63 and p73 isoforms with respect to their ability to confer an apoptotic response to PRIMA-1MET.

Activation of ts TAp63γ and TAp73α in H1299 cells by temperature shift induced apoptosis, whereas activation of TAp73β resulted in increased cell size and inhibition of cell division (Pochampally et al., 2000). In contrast, PRIMA-1MET induced apoptosis in cells expressing ts TAp63γ and TAp73β but not in ts TAp73α-expressing cells, suggesting that temperature shift and PRIMA-1MET treatment act differently with respect to restoring wild-type function to mutant p73. It is conceivable that adducts of the PRIMA-1MET conversion product MQ could create novel protein-DNA contacts (Lambert et al., 2009, 2010). This could affect the choice of target genes and thus result in a different biological outcome than reactivation by temperature shift. Moreover, PRIMA-1MET could also target other proteins in the cell, which might lead to synergistic effects promoting apoptosis rather than growth arrest.

Structurally, TAp63γ and TAp73γ most closely resemble full-length p53 (Figure 3). TAp63γ is as potent as p53 in transactivation and apoptosis assays (Yang et al., 1998). The TAp63α and TAp73α isoforms on the other hand, contain a so called sterile α motif domain and a transactivation inhibitory domain in their C-terminal regions. The C-terminal region may have a regulatory role and modulate the ability of TAp63α and TAp73α to induce gene expression (Ozaki et al., 1999; Ueda et al., 1999). TAp73β induced a stronger apoptotic response compared with TAp73α when exogenously expressed in tumor cells or untransformed cells (Gonzalez et al., 2005). The lower transcription and apoptotic activity in response to particular stress signals of the TA α isoforms of both p63 and p73 was attributed to the sterile α motif domain and the TA inhibitory domains, which are absent in the β and γ isoforms (Scoumanne et al., 2005). Thus, these structural differences among the p63 and p73 isoforms could explain the robust growth suppression and apoptosis on PRIMA-1MET treatment in cells expressing the mutant TAp63γ or TAp73β isoform and the much less pronounced effect in cells expressing mutant TAp73α.

We have previously observed that PRIMA-1 and PRIMA-1MET can induce redistribution of mutant p53 from the nucleoplasm to nucleoli, and that the PML-NB-associated proteins PML, CBP and Hsp70 also accumulate in nucleoli (Rökaeus et al., 2007). PML is a transcription target of p53 and PML overexpression was shown to recruit p53 into PML-NBs and stabilize p53 (Fogal et al., 2000; de Stanchina et al., 2004). In accordance with our previous observations for p53, we observed mutant TAp63γ relocalization to PML-NBs and nucleoli after PRIMA-1MET treatment, but not after treatment with the inactive PRIMA-1 structural analog PRIMA-Dead. Whether PML-NBs have a similar role for p63 activation and acetylation as they do for p53 is not known. However, it was observed that p63 could localize to PML-NBs, in which it interacts with PML and that this interaction increases p63 transcriptional activity (Bernassola et al., 2005).

We extended our studies of the effect of PRIMA-1MET to naturally occurring p63 mutants that have a causative role in the EEC syndrome. Although mutations in p63 and p73 do not occur frequently in human tumors, mutations in the p63 gene are the major cause of the EEC syndrome in humans (Celli et al., 1999; van Bokhoven et al., 2001). This autosomal dominant disorder is characterized by ectodactyly, ectodermal dysplasia and facial clefting. Most of these mutations give rise to amino acid substitutions in the DNA-binding domain of p63. The arginines at codons 204, 227, 279, 280 and 304, are the most frequently mutated residues, accounting for almost 90% of all EEC syndrome cases. Interestingly, these germline p63 mutations correspond exactly to the somatic hot spot p53 mutations in human tumors. We confirmed that PRIMA-1MET can restore wild-type properties to two different TAp63γ mutants that occur in the EEC syndrome. Importantly, the binding of mutant TAp63γ-R204W and TAp63γ-R304W to a p53/p63 consensus DNA-binding motif was enhanced by PRIMA-1MET. Moreover, PRIMA-1MET-induced p63 downstream targets related to both apoptosis and differentiation. In the case of TAp63γ-R304W, mutant p63-dependent growth suppression was also reflected as mutant p63-dependent induction of cell death as assessed by FACS-PI. TAp63γ-R204W expression did not enhance DNA fragmentation in response to PRIMA-1MET, but in contrast caused cell cycle arrest. Thus, it is clear that these two mutants of TAp63γ show different responses to PRIMA-1MET treatment, but the exact reasons remain to be elucidated. TAp63γ-R204W and TAp63γ-R304W are presumably different with regard to structural disturbances of the core domain, which might affect the outcome of reactivation by PRIMA-1MET, in terms of regulation of target genes and induction of specific biological responses. Interestingly, we found that low doses of PRIMA-1MET induced the differentiation marker and p63 target keratin 14 in TAp63γ-R204W Saos-2 cells, although less potently than transfection of the same cells with wild-type TAp63γ. Future studies should address whether PRIMA-1MET can restore the capacity of mutant isoforms of p63 to induce differentiation in a relevant cellular background, that is, human keratinocytes carrying naturally occurring mutant p63 and/or keratinocytes from EEC or ankyloblepharon-ectodermal defects-cleft lip/palate syndrome patients.

In conclusion, we have shown that PRIMA-1MET can restore wild-type activity to mutant forms of all three p53 family members. Thus, PRIMA-1MET has a broader activity than for example the compound CP-31398 that was shown to restore DNA-binding activity to mutant p53 but does not affect p63 and p73 (Demma et al., 2004). Our results indicate that PRIMA-1MET exerts its effects through a common mechanism for p53, p63 and p73, presumably involving homologous structural domains of all three target proteins. A better understanding of the molecular mechanism behind PRIMA-1MET-mediated apoptosis is clearly important for further development of PRIMA-1MET toward efficient anticancer drugs. The effect of PRIMA-1MET on mutant p63 described here also raises the possibility of pharmacological rescue of mutant p63 in developmental syndromes caused by p63 mutations.

Materials and methods

Cell lines and reagents

H1299 is a human p53 null lung adenocarcinoma cell line. H1299 cells stably expressing ts mutants of TAp73α, TAp73β and TAp63γ (kindly provided by Dr Jiandong Chen, H Lee Moffitt Cancer Center) have been described (Pochampally et al., 2000). These cells are referred to as H1299-tsp73α, H1299-tsp73β and H1299-tsp63γ, respectively. Cells were maintained in Iscove's modified Dulbecco's medium (supplemented with 10% fetal bovine serum, 2 mM L-glutamine and 40 μg/ml gentamicin) at 39 °C in 5% CO2. Human HCT116 (p53−/−) colon carcinoma cells (kindly provided by Dr Bert Vogelstein, Johns Hopkins Oncology Center) were maintained in McCoy's 5A medium with 10% fetal bovine serum and 2 mM L-glutamine. Saos-2 cells carrying Tet-regulated (Tet-On) mutant TAp63γ (see below) were maintained in Iscove's modified Dulbecco's medium supplemented with 10% Tet-free fetal bovine serum, 2 mM L-glutamine and 2.5 μg/ml plasmocin at 37 °C in 5% CO2. These cells were maintained under selection with 0.5 μg/ml puromycin and 600 μg/ml geneticin. Doxycycline at 0.1 μg/ml was used for induction of TAp63γ.


The following antibodies were used for immunofluorescence staining, flow cytometry and western blotting: mouse monoclonal anti-p63 (4A4; Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Santa Cruz, CA, USA), mouse monoclonal anti-p73 (Ab-2/ER-15; Oncogene Research Products, San Diego, CA, USA), mouse monoclonal anti-p21 (Cip1/WAF1; BD Biosciences, Stockholm, Sweden), mouse monoclonal anti-Noxa (OP180/114C307; Calbiochem, Darmstadt, Germany), rabbit polyclonal anti-Keratin 14 (AF 64; Covance, San Diego, CA, USA), mouse monoclonal anti-p53 (DO7; kindly provided by Dr Sir David Lane, University of Dundee), mouse monoclonal anti-β-actin (AC-15; Sigma-Aldrich, Stockholm, Sweden) and rabbit polyclonal anti-PML (H-238; Santa Cruz Biotechnology). Secondary antibodies used were Texas Red horse anti-mouse (Vector Laboratories, Burlingame, CA, USA), fluorescein isothiocyanate-conjugated rabbit anti-mouse, fluorescein isothiocyanate-conjugated swine anti-rabbit (DAKO, Glostrup, Denmark) and Alexa Fluor 488-conjugated goat anti-rabbit (A-11008; Invitrogen, Stockholm, Sweden).

Generation of cells expressing Tet-regulated human mutant TAp63γ

TAp63γ R204W and R304W mutants were generated by GeneArt, Germany. They were subcloned into the pTRE2pur vector (Clontech, Heidelberg, Germany) between the BamHI and NotI sites. p53 null Saos-2 osteosarcoma cells containing the pUHD172-1neo plasmid were stably transfected with pTRE2pur-TAp63γ-R204W, pTRE2pur-TAp63γ-R304W or pTRE2pur empty vector using lipofectamine 2000 (Invitrogen AB, Stockholm, Sweden) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Cells were selected with 1 μg/ml Puromycin (Sigma Aldrich, St Louis, MO, USA), single colonies picked and analyzed by immunostaining and western blotting. These cells will be referred to as Saos-2-Tet-TAp63γ-R204W, Saos-2-Tet-TAp63γ-R304W and Saos-2-Tet-Ctrl.

WST-1 growth suppression assay

Cells were grown in 96-well plates overnight followed by PRIMA-1MET treatment. Cell viability was assessed after 24, 48 and 72 h using the WST-1 cell proliferation reagent (Roche, Basel, Switzerland) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Data were analyzed by Microcal Origin statistical software (Origin Lab, Northampton, MA, USA).

Flow cytometry

Cells were grown overnight and treated with PRIMA-1MET the next day. Cell cycle assays: following treatment, all cells were collected, fixed with 70% ethanol, treated with RNase A, and stained with propidium iodide. Caspase activity assays: active caspase-positive cells were assessed using FAM-VAD-FMK substrate (CaspaTag Pan-Caspase in situ assay kit, APT400, Chemicon, Hampshire, UK) according to manufacturer's instructions. Keratine 14 staining: cells were collected by trypsinization and fixed with 50% ethanol overnight. Pelleted cells were incubated with primary and secondary antibody diluted in TgT buffer (0.01% Triton X-100; 20mM Tris, pH 7.4; 150 mM NaCl; 20% fetal bovine serum).

Samples were analyzed on a FACSCalibur flow cytometer (Becton Dickinson Immunocytometry Systems, San Jose, CA, USA) according to standard procedures. Data were analyzed by WinMDI 2.8, FCS Express 3.0 (De Novo Software, Los Angeles, CA, USA) and Microcal Origin statistical software (Origin Lab, Northampton, MA, USA).

Real-time reverse transcriptase–PCR

Cells were plated in six-well plates and treated with PRIMA-1MET the next day. Following treatment cells were harvested by trypsinization. RNA was isolated using RNeasy mini kit (Qiagen, Stockholm, Sweden) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Complementary DNA was synthesized as described earlier (Zache et al., 2008). In all, 100 ng of each sample was analyzed in duplicates using TaqMan probes; Hs00560402_m1 (PMAIP1/Noxa), s00355782_m1 (CDKN1A/p21) and Hs99999905_m1 (glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase) (Applied Biosystems, Foster City, CA, USA). Reactions were performed using the ABI PRISM 7500 Sequence Detection System (Applied Biosystems). Results were analyzed with the comparative Ct method using glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase as the endogenous control.

TransAm assay for DNA binding

Nuclear lysates were extracted using the Nuclear Extract Kit according to the manufacturer's protocol (Active Motif, Tegernheim, Germany, 40010) and incubated in a 96-well plate coated with immobilized oligonucleotides that contains a p53/p63 consensus-binding site (5′-IndexTermGGACATGCCCGGGCATGTCC-3′; TransAM kit, Active Motif, 41196). Bound p63 protein was detected by a mouse monoclonal anti-p63 antibody and a secondary horseradish peroxidase-conjugated antibody. The signal was quantified by spectrophotometry (450 nm).

Western blotting

Cells were grown overnight followed by PRIMA-1MET-treatment or temperature shift. Cells were lysed and analyzed by western blotting according to standard procedures. Protein bands were visualized using SuperSignal West Femto Maximum Sensitivity substrate (Pierce, Rockford, IL, USA). Image densitometry was performed using the Image Gauge version 3.12 analysis software (Fuji, Japan).


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We thank Dr Jiandong Chen, H Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, for the ts mutant p63/p73-expressing cells, and Dr Bert Vogelstein, Johns Hopkins Oncology Center, for the HCT116 cells. This work was supported by EU 6th Framework Program within the EPISTEM Integrated Project (LSHB-CT-2005-019067).

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Correspondence to K G Wiman.

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KGW and VJNB are cofounders and shareholders of Aprea AB, a company that develops p53-based cancer therapy, and KGW is a member of its board.

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Supplementary Information accompanies the paper on the Oncogene website

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  • APR-246
  • reactivation
  • mutant p63
  • mutant p73
  • apoptosis

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