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Nutlin-3a selects for cells harbouring TP53 mutations
22 Nov 2016
Jill E. Kucab, Monica Hollstein, Volker M. Arlt and David H. Phillips
TP53 mutations occur in half of all human tumours. Mutagen-induced or spontaneous TP53 mutagenesis can be studied in vitro using the human TP53 knock-in (Hupki) mouse embryo fibroblast (HUF) immortalisation assay (HIMA). TP53 mutations arise in up to 30% of mutagen-treated, immortalised HUFs; however, mutants are not identified until TP53 sequence analysis following immortalisation (2–5 months) and much effort is expended maintaining TP53-WT cultures. In order to improve the selectivity of the HIMA for HUFs harbouring TP53 mutations, we explored the use of Nutlin-3a, an MDM2 inhibitor that leads to stabilisation and activation of wild-type (WT) p53. First, we treated previously established immortal HUF lines carrying WT or mutated TP53 with Nutlin-3a to examine the effect on cell growth and p53 activation. Nutlin-3a induced the p53 pathway in TP53-WT HUFs and inhibited cell growth, whereas most TP53-mutated HUFs were resistant to Nutlin-3a. We then assessed whether Nutlin-3a treatment could discriminate between TP53-WT and TP53-mutated cells during the HIMA (n572 cultures). As immortal clones emerged from senescent cultures, each was treated with 10 mM Nutlin-3a for 5 days and observed for sensitivity or resistance. TP53 was subsequently sequenced from all immortalised clones. We found that all Nutlin-3a-resistant clones harboured TP53 mutations, which were diverse in position and functional impact, while all but one of the Nutlin-3a-sensitive clones were TP53-WT. These data suggest that including a Nutlin-3a counter-screen significantly improves the specificity and efficiency of the HIMA, whereby TP53-mutated clones are selected prior to sequencing and TP53-WT clones can be discarded.