A role for p53 in sensing DNA damage and triggering apoptotic responses to anticancer agents

Geetha Achanta, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


The p53 tumor suppressor protein plays a major role in cellular responses to anticancer agents that target DNA. DNA damage triggers the accumulation of p53, resulting in the transactivation of genes, which induce cell cycle arrest to allow for repair of the damaged DNA, or signal apoptosis. The exact role that p53 plays in sensing DNA damage and the functional consequences remain to be investigated. The main goal of this project was to determine if p53 is directly involved in sensing DNA damage induced by anticancer agents and in mediating down-stream cellular responses. This was tested in two experimental models of DNA damage: (1) DNA strand termination caused by anticancer nucleoside analogs and (2) oxidative DNA damage induced by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Mobility shift assays demonstrated that p53 and DNA-PK/Ku form a complex that binds DNA containing the anticancer nucleoside analog gemcitabine monophosphate in vitro. Binding of the p53-DNA-PK/Ku complex to the analog-containing DNA inhibited DNA strand elongation. Furthermore, treatment of cells with gemcitabine resulted in the induction of apoptosis, which was associated with the accumulation of p53 protein, its phosphorylation, and nuclear localization, suggesting the activation of p53 to trigger apoptosis following gemcitabine induced DNA strand termination. The role of p53 as a DNA damage sensor was further demonstrated in response to oxidative DNA damage. Protein pull-down assays demonstrated that p53 complexes with OGG1 and APE, and binds DNA containing the oxidized DNA base 8-oxoG. Importantly, p53 enhances the activities of APE and OGG1 in excising the 8-oxoG residue as shown by functional assays in vitro. This correlated with the more rapid removal of 8-oxoG from DNA in intact cells with wild-type p53 exposed to exogenous ROS stress. Interestingly, persistent exposure to ROS resulted in the accelerated onset of apoptosis in cells with wild-type p53 when compared to isogenic cells lacking p53. Apoptosis in p53+/+ cells was associated with accumulation and phosphorylation of p53 and its nuclear localization. Taken together, these results indicate that p53 plays a key role in sensing DNA damage induced by anticancer nucleoside analogs and ROS, and in triggering down-stream apoptotic responses. This study provides new mechanistic insights into the functions of p53 in cellular responses to anticancer agents.

Subject Area

Oncology|Molecular biology

Recommended Citation

Achanta, Geetha, "A role for p53 in sensing DNA damage and triggering apoptotic responses to anticancer agents" (2004). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3131488.