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Cellular Oncology
Volume 30, Issue 5, Pages 371-387

Tyrosinase Overexpression Promotes ATM-Dependent p53 Phosphorylation by Quercetin and Sensitizes Melanoma Cells to Dacarbazine

Thilakavathy Thangasamy, Sivanandane Sittadjody, Kirsten H. Limesand, and Randy Burd

Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA

Copyright © 2008 Hindawi Publishing Corporation and the authors. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Dacarbazine (DTIC) has been used for the treatment of melanoma for decades. However, monotherapy with this chemotherapeutic agent results only in moderate response rates. To improve tumor response to DTIC current clinical trials in melanoma focus on combining a novel targeted agent with chemotherapy. Here, we demonstrate that tyrosinase which is commonly overexpressed in melanoma activates the bioflavonoid quercetin (Qct) and promotes an ataxia telangiectasia mutated (ATM)-dependent DNA damage response. This response sensitizes melanoma cells that overexpress tyrosinase to DTIC. In DB-1 melanoma cells that overexpress tyrosinase (Tyr+ cells), the threshold for phosphorylation of ATM and p53 at serine 15 was observed at a low dose of Qct (25 μM) when compared to the mock transfected pcDNA3 cells, which required a higher dose (75 μM). Both pcDNA3 and Tyr+ DB-1 cells demonstrated similar increases in phosphorylation of p53 at other serine sites, but in the Tyr+ cells, DNApk expression was found to be reduced compared to control cells, indicating a shift towards an ATM-mediated response. The DB-1 control cells were resistant to DTIC, but were sensitized to apoptosis with high dose Qct, while Tyr+ cells were sensitized to DTIC with low or high dose Qct. Qct also sensitized SK Mel 5 (p53 wildtype) and 28 (p53 mutant) cells to DTIC. However, when SK Mel 5 cells were transiently transfected with tyrosinase and treated with Qct plus DTIC, SK Mel 5 cells demonstrated a more than additive induction of apoptosis. Therefore, this study demonstrates that tyrosinase overexpression promotes an ATM-dependent p53 phosphorylation by Qct treatment and sensitizes melanoma cells to dacarbazine. In conclusion, these results suggest that Qct or Qct analogues may significantly improve DTIC response rates in tumors that express tyrosinase.