Isolated limb perfusion with TNF-α and melphalan is used with remarkable efficiency to treat unresectable limb sarcomas. Here we tested the ability of TNF-α to directly induce apoptosis of sarcoma cells. In addition, we investigated the impact of p53 in the regulation of such effect.
We first analysed the ability of TNF-α to induce apoptosis in freshly isolated tumour cells. For this purpose, sarcoma tumours (n = 8) treated ex vivo with TNF-α were processed for TUNEL staining. It revealed substantial endothelial cell apoptosis and levels of tumour cell apoptosis that varied from low to high. In order to investigate the role of p53 in TNF-α-induced cell death, human sarcoma cell lines (n = 9) with different TP53 and MDM2 status were studied for their sensitivity to TNF-α. TP53Wt cell lines were sensitive to TNF-α unless MDM2 was over-expressed. However, TP53Mut and TP53Null cell lines were resistant. TP53 suppression in TP53Wt cell lines abrogated TNF-α sensitivity and TP53 overexpression in TP53Null cell lines restored it. The use of small molecules that restore p53 activity, such as CP-31398 or Nutlin-3a, in association with TNF-α, potentiated the cell death of respectively TP53Mut and TP53Wt/MDM2Ampl. In particular, CP-31398 was able to induce p53 as well as some of its apoptotic target genes in TP53Mut cells. In TP53Wt/MDM2Ampl cells, Nutlin-3a effects were associated with a decrease of TNF-α-induced NF-κB-DNA binding and correlated with a differential regulation of pro- and anti-apoptotic genes such as TP53BP2, GADD45, TGF-β1 and FAIM.
More effective therapeutic approaches are critically needed for the treatment of unresectable limb sarcomas. Our results show that restoring p53 activity in sarcoma cells correlated with increased sensitivity to TNF-α, suggesting that this strategy may be an important determinant of TNF-α-based sarcomas treatment.