Downregulation of p53 by sustained JNK activation during apoptosis

Mol Carcinog. 2000 Nov;29(3):179-88. doi: 10.1002/1098-2744(200011)29:3<179::aid-mc7>;2-k.


In a previous study, we prepared short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) mixtures mimicking the composition of the digested fibers from wheat bran, oat bran, pectin, and cellulose and tested the products on U4 cells, a cell-line model for normal colonocytes. These SCFA mixes induced the cyclin-dependent kinase (cdk) inhibitors p21 and p27, which bound to cdk2/cyclin E and cdk4/cyclin D1 complexes, blocking their kinase activity and arresting cell growth. SCFAs from digested fiber may control intestinal crypt height in vivo by inducing apoptosis in growth-arrested cells at the top of the crypt. In the present study, we report that SCFA mixes induced apoptosis of U4 cells and unexpectedly caused both a sustained activation of the stress-activated protein kinase c-jun N-terminal kinase 1 (JNK1) and downregulation of the tumor suppressor protein p53. JNK1 bound to p53, and the amount of JNK1-bound p53 accurately reflected the amount of total cellular p53. After activation by SCFAs, JNK1 phosphorylated its bound p53. This phosphorylation is likely to have converted p53 into an apoptotic target because p53 breakdown correlated with caspase-3 activity, was inhibited by a caspase-3 inhibitor in a dose-dependent manner, and was inhibited by transfection of dominant-negative JNK1. Because JNK1 activation was sustained in SCFA-treated U4 cells, JNK1 can bind, phosphorylate, and release p53 for proteolysis and then continue this cycle until many p53 molecules have been phosphorylated. Loss of p53 protein was likely due to proteolysis and not to transcriptional changes because a sixfold decrease in p53 protein occurred within 3-24 h of SCFA treatment, whereas p53 mRNA levels were downregulated as much only after 2-3 d. SCFA mixes targeted p53 and possibly other cellular proteins for degradation during apoptosis by causing a sustained activation of JNKs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Butyrates / pharmacology
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Colon / cytology
  • Colon / drug effects
  • Colon / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation / drug effects
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 8
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / biosynthesis
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • Butyrates
  • Caspase Inhibitors
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 8
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases
  • CASP3 protein, human
  • Caspase 3
  • Caspases