Pharmacologic activation of p53 elicits Bax-dependent apoptosis in the absence of transcription

Cancer Cell. 2003 Nov;4(5):371-81. doi: 10.1016/s1535-6108(03)00272-1.


Recent efforts to develop pharmacologic agents that restore function to mutant forms of p53 hold significant promise in cancer therapy. Here, we examine the effects of such pharmacologic activation of p53 function using a small molecule, PRIMA-1, and a model system employing a p53 protein fused to a mutant steroid binding domain of the murine estrogen receptor (p53ERtam) that renders it responsive only in the presence of 4-hydroxytamoxifen. In either case, p53 activation triggered apoptosis that was not inhibited by the presence of macromolecular synthesis inhibitors. This p53-induced, transcription-independent apoptosis is Bax dependent, proceeds in the absence of a nucleus, and involves Bax translocation and cytochrome c release. Hence, pharmacologic p53 modulators can activate a transcription-independent apoptotic program.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Aza Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / pharmacology*
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cloning, Molecular
  • Cytochromes c / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mutation
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Protein Transport
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / metabolism*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2*
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Tamoxifen / analogs & derivatives*
  • Tamoxifen / pharmacology
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / drug effects
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein


  • Aza Compounds
  • BAX protein, human
  • Bax protein, mouse
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • Protein Synthesis Inhibitors
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • Tamoxifen
  • afimoxifene
  • Cytochromes c
  • 2,2-bis(hydroxymethyl)-1-azabicyclo(2,2,2,)octan-3-one