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Br J Cancer. 1994 Mar;69(3):409-16.

The 1993 Walter Hubert Lecture: the role of the p53 tumour-suppressor gene in tumorigenesis.

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Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, New Jersey 08544-1014.


The p53 tumour-suppressor gene is mutated in 60% of human tumours, and the product of the gene acts as a suppressor of cell division. It is thought that the growth-suppressive effects of p53 are mediated through the transcriptional transactivation activity of the protein. Overexpression of the p53 protein results either in arrest in the G1 phase of the cell cycle or in the induction of apoptosis. Both the level of the protein and its transcriptional transactivation activity increase following treatment of cells with agents that damage DNA, and it is thought that p53 acts to protect cells against the accumulation of mutations and subsequent conversion to a cancerous state. The induction of p53 levels in cells exposed to gamma-irradiation results in cell cycle arrest in some cells (fibroblasts) and apoptosis in others (thymocytes). Cells lacking p53 have lost this cell cycle control and presumably accumulate damage-induced mutations that result in tumorigenesis. Thus, the role of p53 in suppressing tumorigenesis may be to rescue the cell or organism from the mutagenic effects of DNA damage. Loss of p53 function accelerates the process of tumorigenesis and alters the response of cells to agents that damage DNA, indicating that successful strategies for radiation therapy may well need to take into account the tissue of origin and the status of p53 in the tumour.

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