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Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2004 Aug-Dec;23(3-4):237-57.

The p53 protein family and radiation sensitivity: Yes or no?

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University of Toronto and Experimental Therapeutics, Ontario Cancer Institute/Princess Margaret Hospital (University Health Network) Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


The p53 tumor suppressor protein is a key mediator of an ATM-dependent DNA damage response cascade following cellular exposure to ionizing radiation. The p53-family members, p63 and p73, are highly similar to p53, yet are differentially activated by IR, UV and cis-platinum via ATM and c-abl/ATR signaling pathways. Loss of function of p53 can occur by mutation or degradation; giving rise to alterations in G(1) and G(2) cell cycle checkpoint control, cell death, DNA repair and genetic stability. The end result of these alterations can be the generation of radioresistant mutant tumor cells. Indeed, in isogenic systems, loss of p53 or p73 function has been associated with decreased chemosensitivity and radiosensitivity, in vitro. However, clinical data supporting a role for p53 genotype as an independent predictive factor for radiotherapy outcome continues to be controversial due to variable endpoints in clinical trial design and in methodology in detecting p53 function. Nonetheless, in carefully controlled radiotherapy studies where mutations in p53 have been detected using DNA sequencing or functional assays, the presence of mutant p53 can be associated with decreased local control following radiotherapy. This suggests that novel molecular treatment strategies specifically designed to re-institute normal p53 function within resistant tumors can be used as combined modality protocols to improve local control and maintain a therapeutic ratio. A future challenge lies in the pre-therapy determination of a 'molecular therapeutic ratio' for individual patients which could allow for specific prognostication based on p53 functional status and subsequent individualized therapy.

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