Purpose: Nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) is a malignant disease of the head/neck region, with a 5-year survival level of approximately 65%. To explore gene therapy as a novel approach which might improve outcome, we have shown previously that introduction of human recombinant wild-type p53 mediated by the adenoviral vector (Ad5CMV-p53) was cytotoxic in two human nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) cell lines (CNE-1 and CNE-2Z). The current work was designed to determine whether this strategy, combined with ionizing radiation (XRT), was more effective than either treatment alone.
Methods and materials: CNE-1, CNE-2Z, and a normal human nasopharyngeal fibroblast strain, KS1, were infected with 2- and 6-plaque-forming units (pfu)/cell of Ad5CMV-p53, respectively. These doses were isoeffective for beta-galactosidase activity in the CNE-1 and CNE-2Z cells. XRT was administered 24 h post-infection, and Western blot analyses were conducted for p53, p21WAF1/CIP1, bax, and bcl-2 2 days after XRT. Cell survival was assessed using a clonogenic assay. Presence of DNA ladders reflecting apoptosis was detected using DNA agarose gel electrophoresis, and cell cycle was analyzed using flow cytometry.
Results: The combination of Ad5CMV-p53 plus XRT (2, 4, and 6 Gy) resulted in an approximately 1-log greater level of cytotoxicity compared to that observed with XRT alone for both NPC cell lines. The two modalities appear to be interacting in a synergistic manner in cancer cells, but not in KS1 fibroblasts. XRT alone stimulated minimal p53 expression in control cells; Ad5CMV-p53 alone induced significant recombinant p53 expression, which was not further enhanced by the addition of XRT. Similar observations were made for p21WAF1/CIP1 expression. No changes were observed for bax or bcl-2 expression with any of these treatments. Apoptosis was induced following 4 Gy of XRT alone, but was observed after only 2 Gy when combined with Ad5CMV-p53. Cell cycle analysis indicated that Ad5CMV-p53 infection did not perturb the cell cycle beyond that observed with XRT alone.
Conclusion: p53 gene therapy and XRT appears to interact in a synergistic manner; underscoring the significant potential of this novel strategy in the treatment of NPC.