Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Cancer Biology

Major Professor

Jiandong Chen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kenneth Wright, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Douglas Cress, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Gary Reuther, Ph.D.


Mdm2, Actinomycin D, Ribosomal stress, L proteins, Ras, L11


MDMX has emerged as a negative regulator of p53 transcriptional activity following DNA damage, loss of ribosomal integrity, and aberrant mitogenic signaling. Disruption of rRNA biogenesis by ribosomal stress activates p53 by releasing ribosomal proteins from nucleoli which bind MDM2 and inhibit p53 degradation. We found that p53 activation by ribosomal stress requires degradation of MDMX by MDM2. This occurs by L11 binding to the acidic domain of MDM2 which promotes its E3 ligase function preferentially towards MDMX. Further, unlike DNA damage which regulates MDMX stability through ATM-dependent phosphorylation events, ribosomal stress does not require MDMX phosphorylation suggesting p53 may be more sensitive to suppression by MDMX under these conditions. Indeed, we find that tumor cells overexpressing MDMX are less sensitive to ribosomal stress-induced growth arrest by the addition of actinomycin D due to formation of inactive p53-MDMX complexes that fail to transcriptionally activate downstream targets such as p21. Knockdown of MDMX increases sensitivity to actinomycin D, whereas MDMX overexpression abrogates p53 activation. Furthermore, MDMX expression promotes resistance to the chemotherapeutic agent 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), which at low concentrations activates p53 by inducing ribosomal stress without significant DNA damage signaling. Knockdown of MDMX abrogates HCT116 tumor xenograft formation in nude mice. MDMX overexpression does not accelerate tumor growth but increases resistance to 5-FU treatment in vivo.

In addition to MDMX regulation at the protein level, we found that regulation of cellular MDMX levels, like MDM2, can occur at the transcriptional level by inducing the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK pathway. We found MDMX levels in tumor cell lines closely correlate with promoter activity and mRNA level. Activated K-Ras and growth factor IGF-1 induce MDMX expression at the transcriptional level through mechanisms that involve the MAPK kinase and c-Ets-1 transcription factors. Pharmacological inhibition of MEK results in down-regulation of MDMX in tumor cell lines. MDMX overexpression is detected in ~50% of human colon tumors and showed strong correlation with increased Erk phosphorylation. Taken together, the data show that MDMX has multiple modes of regulation, which ultimately determine the overall extent of p53 activation.