WW domain-containing oxidoreductase WOX1, also named WWOX or FOR, undergoes Tyr33 phosphorylation at its first N-terminal WW domain and subsequent nuclear translocation in response to sex steroid hormones and stress stimuli. The activated WOX1 binds tumor suppressor p53, and both proteins may induce apoptosis synergistically. Functional suppression of WOX1 by antisense mRNA or a dominant negative abolishes p53-mediated apoptosis. Here, we determined that UV light, anisomycin, etoposide, and hypoxic stress rapidly induced phosphorylation of p53 at Ser46 and WOX1 at Tyr33 (phospho-WOX1) and their binding interactions in several tested cancer cells. Mapping by yeast two-hybrid analysis and co-immunoprecipitation showed that phospho-WOX1 physically interacted with Ser46-phosphorylated p53. Knockdown of WOX1 protein expression by small interfering RNA resulted in L929 fibroblast resistance to apoptosis by tumor necrosis factor, staurosporine, UV light, and ectopic p53, indicating an essential role of WOX1 in stress stimuli-induced apoptosis. Notably, UV light could not induce p53 protein expression in these WOX1 knockdown cells, although p53 mRNA levels were not reduced. Suppression of WOX1 by dominant negative WOX1 (to block Tyr33 phosphorylation) also abolished UV light-induced p53 protein expression. Time course analysis showed that the stability of ectopic wild type p53, tagged with DsRed, was decreased in WOX1 knockdown cells. Inhibition of MDM2 by nutlin-3 increased the binding of p53 and WOX1 and stability of p53. Together, our data show that WOX1 plays a critical role in conferring cellular sensitivity to apoptotic stress and that Tyr33 phosphorylation in WOX1 is essential for binding and stabilizing Ser46-phosphorylated p53.
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