Direct relationship between the level of p53 stabilization induced by rRNA synthesis-inhibiting drugs and the cell ribosome biogenesis rate

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Many drugs currently used in chemotherapy work by hindering the process of ribosome biogenesis. In tumors with functional p53, the inhibition of ribosome biogenesis may contribute to the efficacy of this treatment by inducing p53 stabilization. As the level of stabilized p53 is critical for the induction of cytotoxic effects, it seems useful to highlight those cancer cell characteristics that can predict the degree of p53 stabilization following the treatment with inhibitors of ribosome biogenesis. In the present study we exposed a series of p53 wild-type human cancer cell lines to drugs such as actinomycin D (ActD), doxorubicin, 5-fluorouracil and CX-5461, which hinder ribosomal RNA (rRNA) synthesis. We found that the amount of stabilized p53 was directly related to the level of ribosome biogenesis in cells before the drug treatment. This was due to different levels of inactivation of the ribosomal proteins- MDM2 pathway of p53 digestion. Inhibition of rRNA synthesis always caused cell cycle arrest, independent of the ribosome biogenesis rate of the cells, whereas apoptosis occurred only in cells with a high rDNA transcription rate. The level of p53 stabilization induced by drugs acting in different ways from the inhibition of ribosome biogenesis, such as hydroxyurea (HU) and nutlin-3, was independent of the level of ribosome biogenesis in cells and always lower than that occurring after the inhibition of rRNA synthesis. Interestingly, in cells with a low ribosome biogenesis rate, the combined treatment with ActD and HU exerted an additive effect on p53 stabilization. These results indicated that (i) drugs inhibiting ribosome biogenesis may be highly effective in p53 wild-type cancers with a high ribosome biogenesis rate, as they induce apoptotic cell death, and (ii) the combination of drugs capable of stabilizing p53 through different mechanisms may be useful for treating cancers with a low ribosome biogenesis rate.

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