p53 represses ribosomal gene transcription

Oncogene. 1999 Jan 28;18(4):1119-24. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1202402.


Induction of the tumor suppressor protein p53 restricts cellular proliferation. Since actively growing cells require the ongoing synthesis of ribosomal RNA to sustain cellular biosynthesis, we studied the effect of p53 on ribosomal gene transcription by RNA polymerase I (Pol I). We have measured rDNA transcriptional activity in different cell lines which either lack or overexpress p53 and demonstrate that wild-type but not mutant p53 inhibits cellular pre-rRNA synthesis. Conversely, pre-rRNA levels are elevated both in cells which express mutant p53 and in fibroblasts from p53 knock-out mice. Transient transfection assays with a set of rDNA deletion mutants demonstrate that intergenic spacer sequences are dispensable and the minimal rDNA promoter is sufficient for p53-mediated repression of Pol I transcription. However, in a cell-free transcription system, recombinant p53 does not inhibit rDNA transcription, indicating that p53 does not directly interfere with the basal Pol I transcriptional machinery. Thus, repression of Pol I transcription by p53 may be a consequence of p53-induced growth arrest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics*
  • DNA, Ribosomal / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • RNA Polymerase I / physiology*
  • RNA Precursors / biosynthesis*
  • Transcription, Genetic / genetics*
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology*


  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA Precursors
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • RNA Polymerase I