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Cell Death Differ. 2002 Mar;9(3):237-45.

Role of p73 in malignancy: tumor suppressor or oncogene?

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Centre for Cancer Research and Cancer Therapy, Institute of Molecular Biology, University of Essen, Medical School, Hufelandstr. 55, D-45122 Essen, Germany.


The recently identified p53 family member, p73, shows substantial structural and functional homology with p53. However, despite the established role of p53 as a proto-type tumor suppressor, a similar function of p73 in malignancy is questionable. Overexpression of p73 can activate typical p53-responsive genes, and activation of p73 has been implicated in apoptotic cell death induced by aberrant cell proliferation and some forms of DNA-damage. These data together with the localization of TP73 on chromosome 1p36, a region frequently deleted in a variety of human tumors, led to the hypothesis that p73 has tumor suppressor activity just like p53. However, unlike p53-/- mice, p73 knockout mice do not develop tumors. Extensive studies on primary tumor tissues have revealed overexpression of wild-type p73 in the absence of p73 mutations instead, suggesting that p73 may augment, rather than inhibit tumor development. In contrast to p53, differential splicing of the TP73 gene locus gives rise to a complex pattern of interacting p73 isoforms with antagonistic functions. In fact, induction of apoptosis by increased levels of p73 can be blocked by both p53 mutants and the N-terminally truncated p73 isoforms, which were recently shown to possess oncogenic potential. In the light of these new findings the contradictory role of p73 in malignancy will be discussed.

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