The p53 tumor suppressor is frequently inactivated by mutations in cancer. Most p53 mutations are located in the DNA-binding domain, causing local disruption of DNA-binding surface or global misfolding. Rescuing the structural defect of mutant p53 is an attractive therapeutic strategy, but its potential remains unproven due to a lack of drugs capable of efficiently rescuing misfolded p53. Although mutant p53 in tumors is inactive at 37°C, approximately 15% are temperature sensitive (ts) and regain DNA-binding activity at 32°C to 34°C (ts mutants). This temperature is achievable using a therapeutic hypothermia procedure established for resuscitated cardiac arrest patients. To test whether hypothermia can be used to target tumors with ts p53 mutations, the core temperature of tumor-bearing mice was lowered to 32°C using the adenosine A1 receptor agonist N6-cyclohexyladenoxine that suppresses brain-regulated thermogenesis. Hypothermia treatment (32 hours at 32°C × 5 cycles) activated endogenous ts mutant p53 in xenograft tumors and inhibited tumor growth in a p53-dependent fashion. Tumor regression and durable remission in a ts p53 lymphoma model was achieved by combining hypothermia with chemotherapy. The results raise the possibility of treating tumors expressing ts p53 mutations with hypothermia.


Pharmacologic inhibition of brain-regulated thermogenesis and induction of 32°C whole-body hypothermia specifically targets tumors with temperature-sensitive p53 mutations, rescuing p53 transcriptional activity and inducing tumor regression.

See related commentary by Hu and Feng, p. 3762

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