The p53 codon 72 proline allele is endowed with enhanced cell-death inducing potential in cancer cells exposed to hypoxia
The preferential retention of the arginine allele at the p53 codon 72 locus is commonly observed in tumours from arginine/proline heterozygotes. Considering that cancer cells are harboured in a hypoxic environment in vivo, we here tested the hypothesis that the p53 codon 72 proline allele confers a survival disadvantage in presence of hypoxia. Here, we show that the transient transfection of the proline allele in p53 null cancer cells exposed to low oxygen tension or to the hypoxia-mimetic drug Desferoxamine induces a higher amount of cell death than the arginine allele. Accordingly, proline allele transiently transfected cell lines express lower levels of hypoxia pro-survival genes (HIF-1alpha, carbonic anhydrase IX, vascular endothelial growth factor, heme oxygenase-I, hepatocyte growth factor receptor, vascular endothelial growth factor receptor 2), compared to those transiently transfected with the arginine allele. Further, we report that the exposure of the arginine/proline heterozygote MCF-7 breast cancer cell line to cytotoxic concentration of Desferoxamine for several weeks, gives raise to hypoxia-resistant clones, carrying the arginine, but not the proline allele. These data indicate that the p53 codon 72 proline allele is less permissive for the growth of cancer cells in a hypoxic environment, and suggest that the preferential retention of the arginine allele in the tumour tissues of arginine/proline heterozygous patients may depend upon its lowered capacity to induce cell death in a hypoxic tumour environment.