Multiple p53-independent gene silencing mechanisms define the cellular response to p53 activation

Cell Cycle. 2008 Aug;7(15):2427-33. doi: 10.4161/cc.6420. Epub 2008 Jun 9.


The cellular response to Nutlin-3, a small-molecule inhibitor of the p53 repressor MDM2, varies widely among human cancer-derived cell types. Whereas HCT116 colorectal carcinoma cells display sustained cell cycle arrest, BV173 leukemia cells undergo rapid apoptosis and other cell lines show an intermediate response. We found that the expression of the p53 target genes p21, 14-3-3sigma and the microRNA miR-34a correlates tightly with the cell fate choice adopted. All three genes were strongly induced in arresting cells, but silenced in cells undergoing Nutlin-3-induced apoptosis. In contrast, key apoptotic p53 target genes were equally expressed in arresting and apoptotic cells. Interestingly, we establish that miR-34a cooperates with p21 and 14-3-3sigma to override the apoptotic signals generated by p53 activation. Strikingly, p53 binding to chromatin and p53-mediated recruitment of certain coactivators to all three target loci does not vary among cell types. Instead, the cell type-specific silencing of these genes is due to enhanced p21 mRNA degradation, 14-3-3sigma promoter DNA methylation and reduced processing of the miR-34a primary transcript. Thus, p53-independent events regulating expression of protein-coding genes and microRNAs within the network can define the cellular outcome of p53 activation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • 14-3-3 Proteins / genetics
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Carcinoma / genetics
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21 / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Silencing / physiology*
  • HCT116 Cells
  • Humans
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology
  • MicroRNAs / physiology
  • Models, Biological
  • Piperazines / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology*


  • 14-3-3 Proteins
  • CDKN1A protein, human
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21
  • Imidazoles
  • MIRN34 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Piperazines
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • nutlin 3