c-Myc overexpression sensitises colon cancer cells to camptothecin-induced apoptosis

Br J Cancer. 2003 Nov 3;89(9):1757-65. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6601338.


The proto-oncogene c-Myc is overexpressed in 70% of colorectal tumours and can modulate proliferation and apoptosis after cytotoxic insult. Using an isogenic cell system, we demonstrate that c-Myc overexpression in colon carcinoma LoVo cells resulted in sensitisation to camptothecin-induced apoptosis, thus identifying c-Myc as a potential marker predicting response of colorectal tumour cells to camptothecin. Both camptothecin exposure and c-Myc overexpression in LoVo cells resulted in elevation of p53 protein levels, suggesting a role of p53 in the c-Myc-imposed sensitisation to the apoptotic effects of camptothecin. This was confirmed by the ability of PFT-alpha, a specific inhibitor of p53, to attenuate camptothecin-induced apoptosis. p53 can induce the expression of p21(Waf1/Cip1), an antiproliferative protein that can facilitate DNA repair and drug resistance. Importantly, although camptothecin treatment markedly increased p21(Waf1/Cip1) levels in parental LoVo cells, this effect was abrogated in c-Myc-overexpressing derivatives. Targeted inactivation of p21(Waf1/Cip1) in HCT116 colon cancer cells resulted in significantly increased levels of apoptosis following treatment with camptothecin, demonstrating the importance of p21(Waf1/Cip1) in the response to this agent. Finally, cDNA microarray analysis was used to identify genes that are modulated in expression by c-Myc upregulation that could serve as additional markers predicting response to camptothecin. Thirty-four sequences were altered in expression over four-fold in two isogenic c-Myc-overexpressing clones compared to parental LoVo cells. Moreover, the expression of 10 of these genes was confirmed to be significantly correlated with response to camptothecin in a panel of 30 colorectal cancer cell lines.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / pharmacology
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / genetics*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Camptothecin / pharmacology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Cyclins / biosynthesis
  • Cyclins / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / biosynthesis*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc / genetics


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CDKN1A protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Cyclins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-myc
  • Camptothecin