Aberrant DNA hypermethylation is frequently found in tumor cells and inhibition of DNA methylation is an effective anticancer strategy. In this study, the therapeutic effect of DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) inhibitor zebularine (Zeb) on colorectal cancer (CRC) was investigated. Zeb exhibited anticancer activity in cell cultures, tumor xenografts and mouse colitis-associated CRC model. It stabilizes p53 through ribosomal protein S7 (RPS7)/MDM2 pathways and DNA damage. Zeb-induced cell death was dependent on p53. Microarray analysis revealed that genes related to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and unfolded protein response (UPR) were affected by Zeb. Zeb induced p53-dependent ER stress and autophagy. Pro-survival markers of ER stress/UPR (GRP78) and autophagy (p62) were increased in tumor tissues of CRC patients, AOM/DSS-induced CRC mice and HCT116-derived colonospheres. Zeb downregulates GRP78 and p62, and upregulates a pro-apoptotic CHOP. Our results reveal a novel mechanism for the anticancer activity of Zeb.
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