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Cancer. 1994 Jan 15;73(2):406-15.

Pattern of mutant p53 expression in human astrocytomas suggests the existence of alternate pathways of tumorigenesis.

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Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Brown University, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence 02903.



Clinical observations suggest that malignant astrocytomas may arise from well-differentiated, low-grade tumors that have undergone anaplastic progression or may develop de novo. Mutations that alter the function of the p53 gene product are thought to play a critical role in astrocytoma tumorigenesis. The authors studied the pattern of mutant p53 expression in astrocytomas to define its role in the formation of malignant tumors by these different pathways.


Tissues from 44 astrocytomas corresponding to Grades I-IV of the World Health Organization (WHO) classification were analyzed for the presence of mutations in exons 5, 7, and 8 of the p53 gene using single strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) and sequence analysis of DNA amplified by the polymerase chain reaction. Immunostaining for mutant p53 proteins was performed on tissues fixed in formaldehyde solution and embedded in paraffin; the tissues were from these 44 astrocytomas and another 103 astrocytomas obtained from archival material.


Tumors with mutant p53 genes were reliably identified by immunostaining for mutant p53 proteins. A higher percentage of astrocytomas of histologic Grades II-IV stained positively for p53 than were identified by mutational analysis. The average ages of patients with Grade III/IV astrocytomas with prominent (> 10%) p53 staining and those with sparse (< 10%) or no p53 staining were 44.5, 64.3, and 67.9 years, respectively (P < 0.0001).


The pattern of mutant p53 expression is consistent with a role in driving the progression of low-grade astrocytomas to more malignant tumors. These results provide a genetic basis for the clinical observation that malignant astrocytomas resulting from anaplastic progression occur in a younger patient population than do malignant astrocytomas arising de novo.

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