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J Clin Invest. 2013 Mar 1;123(3):1335-42. doi: 10.1172/JCI67289. Epub 2013 Feb 1.

p53 centrosomal localization diagnoses ataxia-telangiectasia homozygotes and heterozygotes.

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  • 1Department of Experimental Oncology, Regina Elena National Cancer Institute, Rome, Italy.


Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) is an autosomal recessive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by radiosensitivity, genomic instability, and predisposition to cancer. A-T is caused by biallelic mutations in the ataxia-telangiectasia mutated (ATM) gene, but heterozygous carriers, though apparently healthy, are believed to be at increased risk for cancer and more sensitive to ionizing radiation than the general population. Despite progress in functional and sequencing-based assays, no straightforward, rapid, and inexpensive test is available for the identification of A-T homozygotes and heterozygotes, which is essential for diagnosis, genetic counseling, and carrier prediction. The oncosuppressor p53 prevents genomic instability and centrosomal amplification. During mitosis, p53 localizes at the centrosome in an ATM-dependent manner. We capitalized on the latter finding and established a simple, fast, minimally invasive, reliable, and inexpensive test to determine mutant ATM zygosity. The percentage of mitotic lymphoblasts or PBMCs bearing p53 centrosomal localization clearly discriminated among healthy donors (>75%), A-T heterozygotes (40%-56%), and A-T homozygotes (<30%). The test is specific for A-T, independent of the type of ATM mutations, and recognized tumor-associated ATM polymorphisms. In a preliminary study, our test confirmed that ATM is a breast cancer susceptibility gene. These data open the possibility of cost-effective, early diagnosis of A-T homozygotes and large-scale screenings for heterozygotes.

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