The p73alpha protein is a functional homolog of the p53 tumor suppressor. Although the TP53 gene is frequently mutated in human cancers, the TP73 gene is rarely inactivated. We have found that p73alpha is highly expressed in a significant fraction of anaplastic thyroid cancer, whereas it is not detectable in normal thyroid epithelial cells or in papillary and follicular thyroid cancer cells. Interestingly, the tumor suppression function of p73alpha is actively restrained in anaplastic thyroid cancer cells. We have also found that c-Abl tyrosine kinase, an activator of p73, is excluded from the nucleus of p73alpha-positive thyroid cancer cells; whereas c-Abl undergoes nuclear-cytoplasmic shuttling in normal thyroid and p73-negative thyroid cancer cells. We constructed an AblNuk-FK506-binding protein (FKBP) fusion protein to enforce the nuclear accumulation of an inducible Abl kinase. Activation of this nuclear AblNuk-FKBP by dimerization with AP20187 in anaplastic thyroid cancer cells increased the levels of p73alpha and p21Cip1 and caused p73-dependent apoptosis. These results suggest subcellular segregation of c-Abl from p73 to be a strategy for disrupting the tumor suppression function of p73alpha.
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