Objectives: Adenovirus-mediated p53 (AdCMVp53) gene therapy for cancer is currently undergoing phase III clinical trials. One problematic aspect of this therapy is that the current protocols result in low transduction of the therapeutic virus in vivo. To search new modalities that can enhance the effect of AdCMVp53 gene therapy, we focused on retinoids. Methods: To study the effect of ATRA in combination with AdCMVp53 gene therapy, we pretreated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) cells for 72 hours with a low-dose All-trans-retinoic acid (ATRA) (10-7 M-10-8 M) which will not affect the in vitro cell growth, and then infected the cells with low MOI (30MOI) AdCMVp53. In vitro cell proliferation assays, cell cycle assays were performed. Expression of p53 and p53-related gene products, BAX and p21, were examined. Results: The combined treatment with ATRA and Ad-p53 suppressed cell growth and induced apoptosis significantly more than AdCMVp53 treatment alone (P <.05). p53 expression significantly increased more after the combined treatment than after either treatment alone, at both the transcription and protein levels. In addition, increased expression of p21 and BAX, which are downstream gene products of p53, was observed in the combination. ATRA also enhanced the expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP) transduced by an adenovirus-cytomegalovirus (CMV)-GFP vector suggesting ATRA enhances adenovirus-CMV-promoted vectors through transcription. Conclusions: Our results indicate that ATRA enhances AdCMVp53 expression through transcriptional mechanisms and can synergistically induce apoptosis in HNSCC cells. ATRA has a potential to enhance the effect of adenovirus-mediated p53 gene therapy for HNSCC.
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