Novel CDK9 inhibitor oroxylin A promotes wild-type P53 stability and prevents hepatocellular carcinoma progression by disrupting both MDM2 and SIRT1 signaling

Jing-yue Yao1, Shu Xu1, Yue-ning Sun1, Ye Xu1, Qing-long Guo1, Li-bin Wei1
1 State Key Laboratory of Natural Medicines, Jiangsu Key Laboratory of Carcinogenesis and Intervention, China Pharmaceutical University, Nanjing 210009, China
Correspondence to: Qing-long Guo:, Li-bin Wei:,
DOI: 10.1038/s41401-021-00708-2
Received: 2 March 2021
Accepted: 28 May 2021
Advance online: 29 June 2021


Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most lethal tumours worldwide. However, the effects of first-line sorafenib treatment in advanced HCC fail to prolong patients’ survival due to the highly heterogeneous characteristics of HCC etiology. Cyclin- dependent kinase 9 (CDK9) is an important target in the continuous development of cancer therapy. Here, we demonstrate that CDK9 is closely associated with the progression of HCC and can serve as an HCC therapeutic target by modulating the recovery of wild-type p53 (wt-p53) function. We prove that mouse double minute 2 homologue (MDM2) and Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) are phosphorylated by CDK9 at Ser166 and Ser47, respectively. Inhibition of CDK9 not only reduces the MDM2-mediated ubiquitination and degradation of wt-p53 but also increases wt-p53 stability by suppressing deacetylase activity of SIRT1. Thus, inhibition of CDK9 promotes the wt-p53 stabilization and prevents HCC progression. However, excessive inhibition by high concentrations of specific CDK9 inhibitors counteracts the promotion of p53 stability and reduces their anti-HCC activity because of extreme general transcription repression. The effects of a novel CDK9 inhibitor named oroxylin A (OA) from Scutellaria baicalensis are explored, with the results indicating that OA shows moderate and controlled inhibition of CDK9 activity and expression, and stabilizes wt-p53 by inhibiting CDK9-regulated MDM2 and SIRT1 signaling. These outcomes indicate the high therapeutic potential of OA against HCC and its low toxicity in normal tissue. This study demonstrates a novel mechanism for the regulation of wt-p53 by CDK9 and indicates that OA is a potential candidate for HCC therapy.
Keywords: inhibition of CDK9; Wt-p53 stabilization; hepatocellular carcinoma; oroxylin A

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