TUMOR BIOLOGY, vol.33, no.5, pp.1385-1392, 2012 (SCI-Expanded)
An important hallmark of cancer cells is acquired resistance toward apoptosis. The apoptotic pathway is the most well-defined cell death program and is characterized by several morphological and biochemical features. The tumor suppressor protein p53 is a critical regulator of apoptosis in many cell types. p53 stimulates a wide network of signals that act through either extrinsic or intrinsic pathways of apoptosis. However, a number of studies have shown that apoptosis can be induced in a p53-independent manner as well. In this study, we examined the mechanism of apoptosis in p53-null breast cancer cells in response to the proteasome inhibitor bortezomib. Initially, we determined the p53 status of 4T1 breast carcinoma and 4THMpc (a highly mestatic derivative of 4T1) cells and verified that both cells are p53 deficient. It was subsequently shown that apoptosis can be induced in both cells in a dose-dependent manner in response to bortezomib treatment, based on DNA fragmentation evidence. Western blot analyses of ubiquitin-protein conjugates additionally showed that the proteasome is potently inhibited by bortezomib in p53-null 4T1 and 4THMpc cells. The results presented in the current study also show that caspase-3 is significantly activated in response to the treatment with bortezomib, implying that induction of apoptosis in these p53-deficient cells is occuring via caspase-3. The additional results presented here suggest that the pro-apoptotic proteins Bad, Noxa, and Puma are not critical regulators of apoptosis induction in p53-null 4T1 and 4THMpc cells. Similarly, there was no difference in the expression level of Mcl-1 in treated cells, suggesting that this anti-apoptotic protein is also uninvolved in the apoptotic response resulting from bortezomib treatment. In contrast, a very significant upregulation of the anti-apoptotic protein Hsp25/27 was detected in these p53-deficient cells after treatment with bortezomib. If the increased expression of Hsp25/27 protein levels are muting the apoptotic effects of the bortezomib treatment, then the apoptosis-inducing effects of such proteasome inhibitors might be increased with approaches simultaneously inhibiting Hsp25/27 protein in p53-deficient cells.