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Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 1998;9(1):23-37.

p53--an acrobat in tumorigenesis.

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Department of Pathology, Health Sciences Center, State University of New York at Stony Brook, 11794-8691, USA.


The p53 tumor suppressor protein plays a central role in maintaining genomic integrity. It does so by occupying a nodal point in the DNA damage control pathway. When cells are subject to ionizing radiation or other mutagenic events, p53 mediates cell cycle arrest or programmed cell death (apoptosis). Furthermore, some evidence suggests that p53 plays a role in the recognition and repair of damaged DNA. Biochemically, p53 is a sequence-specific transcriptional stimulator and a non-specific transcriptional repressor but also engages in multiple protein-protein interactions. Conversely, disruption of the p53 response pathway strongly correlates with tumorigenesis. p53 is functionally inactivated by structural mutations, neutralization by viral products, and non-mutational cellular mechanisms in the majority of human cancers. p53-deficient mice have a highly penetrant tumor phenotype, with over 90% tumor incidence within nine months. In some cancers, direct physical evidence exists identifying the p53 gene as a target of known environmental carcinogens such as UV light and benzolalpyrene in cancers of the skin and lung. When p53 loss occurs, cells do not get repaired or eliminated but rather proceed to replicate damaged DNA, which results in more random mutations, gene amplifications, chromosomal re-arrangements, and aneuploidy. In some experimental models, loss of p53 confers resistance to anticancer therapy due to loss of apoptotic competence. The translational potential of these discoveries is beginning to be tested in novel p53-based therapies.

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