In this work, we described the proliferation of human non-small-cell-lung- cancer (NSCLC) cells H1437 harboring p53 alleles (proline-267) can be inhibited by low-dosage topoisomerase II inhibitor etoposide (VP-16) in vitro and in vivo. The cytotoxicity was demonstrated by prolonged cell arrest at G2-M checkpoint exhibiting senescence-like phenotype followed by apoptotic cell death that appeared on the sixth day of VP-16 treatment. The experimental in vivo evidence of growth suppression was also demonstrated in xenograft tumors. The appearance of senescence-like state during extended G2-M phase arrest was indicated by slow proliferation and loss of growth sensitivity in culture accompanied with cellular morphological changes, time-dependent regulation of β-galactosidase staining as well as distinct reduction of telomerase activity upon protracted VP-16 exposure. Further molecular determinants leading to G2-M cell arrest was also characterized by the concerted up-regulation of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors, p16INK4a and p21Waf1/Cipi, beginning 2 days later following drug exposure at both translational and transcriptional levels, while human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) activities reduced progressively. The clinically important therapeutic agent VP-16-mediated prolonged cell arrest at G2-M phase prior to apoptotic death offered a different perspective in restraining human cancer cells at low drug dosage, thereby serving as an effective telomerase inhibitor as well as an apoptosis effector. The overall results demonstrated that apoptosis can be regulated differently in human NSCLC cells with disrupted p53. Further effort in elucidating G2-M arrest before leading to apoptosis promises to provide an alternative insight in reversing tumorigenic phenotype of human cancers.
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