p53 promotes cellular survival in a context-dependent manner by directly inducing the expression of haeme-oxygenase-1

Nam, S Y; Sabapathy, K
November 2011
Oncogene;11/3/2011, Vol. 30 Issue 44, p4476
Academic Journal
A variety of cellular insults activate the tumour suppressor p53, leading generally to cell-cycle arrest or apoptosis. However, it is not inconceivable that cellular protective mechanisms may be required to keep cells alive while cell-fate decisions are made. In this respect, p53 has been suggested to perform functions that allow cells to survive, by halting of the cell-cycle, and thus preventing immediate cell death. Nonetheless, the existence of direct pro-survival p53 target genes regulating cellular survival is lacking. We show here evidence for p53-dependent cellular survival in a context-dependent manner. Both mouse and human cells lacking p53 are hypersensitive to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)-induced cell death compared with their isogenic wild-type counterparts. By contrast, p53−/− cells are expectedly resistant to cell death upon exposure to DNA-damaging agents such as cisplatin (CDDP) and etoposide. Although p53 and its classical targets such as p21 and Mdm2 are activated by both H2O2 and CDDP, we found that the expression of haeme-oxygenase-1 (HO-1)-an antioxidant and antiapoptotic protein-was directly induced only upon H2O2 treatment in a p53-dependent manner. Consistently, p53, but not its homologue p73, activated HO-1 expression and was bound to the HO-1 promoter specifically only upon H2O2 treatment. Moreover, silencing HO-1 expression enhanced cell death upon H2O2 treatment only in p53-proficient cells. Finally, H2O2-mediated cell death was rescued significantly in p53-deficient cells by antioxidant treatment, as well as by bilirubin, a by-product of HO-1 metabolism. Taken together, these data demonstrate a direct role for p53 in promoting cellular survival in a context-specific manner through the activation of a direct transcriptional target, HO-1.


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