Although p53 is found mutated in almost 50% of all cancers, p53 mutations in leukaemia are relatively rare. Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) cells employ other strategies to inactivate their wild type p53 (WTp53), like the overexpression of the p53 negative regulators Mdm2 and Mdm4. As such, AMLs are excellent candidates for therapeutics involving the reactivation of their WTp53 to restrict and destroy cancer cells, and the Mdm2 antagonist nutlin-3 is one such promising agent. Using AML cell lines with WTp53, we identified stable and high levels of p53 in the OCI/AML-2 cell lines. We demonstrate that this nutlin-3 sensitive cell line overexpressed Mdm4 to sequester, stabilise and inhibit p53 in the cytoplasm. We also show that elevated Mdm4 competed with Mdm2-p53 interaction and therefore extended p53 half-life while preventing p53 transcriptional activity. Our results provide biochemical evidence on the dynamics of the p53-Mdm2-Mdm4 interactions in affecting p53 levels and activity, and unlike previously reported findings derived from genetically manipulated systems, AML cells with naturally high levels of Mdm4 remain sensitive to nutlin treatment.
Key points: Endogenously high levels of Mdm4 inhibit and sequester p53 in AML. High levels of Mdm4 do not block function of Mdm2 inhibitors in AML.