Anticancer agent FL118 was recently identified in screening of small-molecule inhibitors of human survivin expression. Although FL118 is a camptothecin analogue, its antitumor potency is much superior to other FDA-approved camptothecin analogues (irinotecan and topotecan). The mechanism of action (MOA) underlying the antitumor effects of FL118 remains to be fully elucidated. Here, we report that FL118 activates tumor suppressor p53 as a novel MOA in p53 wild-type cancer cells. Our studies show that this MOA involves an induction of proteasomal degradation of MdmX, a critical negative regulator of p53, in a manner largely independent of ATM-dependent DNA damage signaling pathway but dependent on E3-competent Mdm2. FL118 inhibits p53 polyubiquitination and monoubiquitination by Mdm2-MdmX E3 complex in cells and in cell-free systems. In contrast, FL118 stimulates Mdm2-mediated MdmX ubiquitination. Coimmunoprecipitation revealed that FL118 slightly decreases Mdm2-p53 interactions and moderately increases Mdm2-MdmX interactions, suggesting a change of targeting specificity of Mdm2-MdmX E3 complex from p53 to MdmX, resulting in accelerated MdmX degradation. As a result, p53 ubiquitination by Mdm2-MdmX E3 complex is reduced, which in turn activates p53 signaling. Activation of the p53 pathway by FL118 induces p53-dependent senescence in colorectal cancer cells. However, in the absence of p53 or in the presence of MdmX overexpression, FL118 promotes p53-independent apoptosis. These two distinct cellular consequences collectively contribute to the potent effects of FL118 to inhibit clonogenic potential of colon cancer cells. This study identifies a potential application of FL118 as an MdmX inhibitor for targeted therapies.
©2014 American Association for Cancer Research.