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Physiol Genomics. 2009 Mar 3;37(1):58-66. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.90346.2008. Epub 2008 Dec 23.

Role of p53 in mitochondrial biogenesis and apoptosis in skeletal muscle.

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  • 1School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


p53 is a tumor suppressor protein that also plays a role in regulating aerobic metabolism. Since skeletal muscle is a major source of whole body aerobic respiration, it is important to delineate the effects of p53 on muscle metabolism. In p53 knockout (KO) mice, we observed diminished mitochondrial content in mixed muscle and lowered peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma (PPARgamma) coactivator (PGC)-1alpha protein levels in gastrocnemius muscle. In intermyofibrillar (IMF) mitochondria, lack of p53 was associated with reduced respiration and elevated reactive oxygen species production. Permeability transition pore kinetics remained unchanged; however, IMF mitochondrial cytochrome c release was reduced and DNA fragmentation was lowered, illustrating a resistance to mitochondrially driven apoptosis in muscle of KO mice. p53-null animals displayed similar muscle strength but greater fatigability and less locomotory endurance than wild-type (WT) animals. Surprisingly, the adaptive responses in mitochondrial content to running were similar in WT and KO mice. Thus p53 may be important, but not necessary, for exercise-induced mitochondrial biogenesis. In WT animals, acute muscle contractions induced the phosphorylation of p53 in concert with increased activation of upstream kinases AMP-activated protein kinase and p38, indicating a pathway through which p53 may initiate mitochondrial biogenesis in response to contractile activity. These data illustrate a novel role for p53 in maintaining mitochondrial biogenesis, apoptosis, and performance in skeletal muscle.

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