Inhibition of polyamine synthesis induces p53 gene expression but not apoptosis

Li Li, Ji Li, Jaladanki N. Rao, Minglin Li, Barbara L. Bass, Jian Ying Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


The nuclear phosphoprotein p53 acts as a transcription factor and is involved in growth inhibition and apoptosis. The present study was designed to examine the effect of decreasing cellular polyamines on p53 gene expression and apoptosis in small intestinal epithelial (IEC-6) cells. Cells were grown in DMEM containing 5% dialyzed fetal bovine serum in the presence or absence of α-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), a specific inhibitor of polyamine biosynthesis, for 4, 6, and 12 days. The cellular polyamines putrescine, spermidine, and spermine in DFMO-treated cells decreased dramatically at 4 days and remained depleted thereafter. Polyamine depletion by DFMO was accompanied by a significant increase in expression of the p53 gene. The p53 mRNA levels increased 4 days after exposure to DFMO, and the maximum increases occurred at 6 and 12 days after exposure. Increased levels of p53 mRNA in DFMO-treated cells were paralleled by increases in p53 protein. Polyamines given together with DFMO completely prevented increased expression of the p53 gene. Increased expression of the p53 gene in DFMO- treated cells was associated with a significant increase in G1 phase growth arrest. In contrast, no features of programmed cell death were identified after polyamine depletion: no internucleosomal DNA fragmentation was observed, and no morphological features of apoptosis were evident in cells exposed to DFMO for 4, 6, and 12 days. These results indicate that 1) decreasing cellular polyamines increases expression of the p53 gene and 2) activation of p53 gene expression after polyamine depletion does not induce apoptosis in intestinal crypt cells. These findings suggest that increased expression of the p53 gene may play an important role in growth inhibition caused by polyamine depletion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)C946-C954
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Cell Physiology
Issue number4 45-4
StatePublished - 1999


  • Growth inhibition
  • IEC-6 cells
  • Ornithine decarboxylase
  • Proliferation
  • Tumor suppressor gene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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