Small molecule inhibitors (SMIs) of murine double minute 2 (MDM2) are known to restore the apoptotic and cell cycle regulatory functions of p53 by disrupting the MDM2-p53 interaction. In principle, these SMIs are not effective against tumours with mutation in the tumour suppressor p53 (mut-p53), which is known to be present in approximately 50% of all cancers. In this study we are reporting, for the first time, that MI-319 in combination with cisplatin induced cell growth inhibition and apoptosis in pancreatic cancer (PC) cells irrespective of their p53 mutational status. MI-319-cisplatin combination synergistically suppressed cell growth (MTT Combination Index [CI]<1) and colony formation (clonogenic assay) and induced apoptosis. Western blot analysis and siRNA silencing studies in mutant as well as p53 null cells highlighted a mechanism involving p73 which is also known to be under the regulation of MDM2, and unlike p53, it is rarely mutated in PC. Down-regulating MDM2 using siRNA enhanced p73 reactivation and increased cell death. Further, the combination effectively reduced tumour growth in both wt-p53 and mut-p53 tumour xenograft models (50% Capan-2 animals were tumour free). Consistent with our in vitro results, remnant tumour tissue analysis showed up-regulation of p73 and the cell cycle regulator p21. In conclusion, this study highlights a new role of MDM2 inhibitors in combination with cisplatin, and thus warrants further clinical investigation in human pancreatic tumours containing both wt-p53 and mut-p53.
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