p53 Mutation Spectrum and Load: The Generation of Hypotheses Linking the Exposure of Endogenous or Exogenous Carcinogens to Human Cancer

Mutat Res. 1999 Jul 16;428(1-2):23-32. doi: 10.1016/s1383-5742(99)00028-9.


The activation of protooncogenes and inactivation of tumor suppressor genes in affected cells are considered as the core events that provide a selective growth advantage and clonal expansion during the multistep process of carcinogenesis. Somatic mutations, induced by exogenous or endogenous mechanisms, were found to alter the normal functions of the p53 tumor suppressor gene. p53 is the most prominent example of tumor suppressor genes because it is mutated in about half of all human cancer. In contrast to other tumor suppressor genes (like APC and RB), about 80% of p53 mutations are missense mutations that lead to amino acid substitutions in proteins and can alter the protein conformation and increase the stability of p53. These changes can also alter the sequence-specific DNA binding and transcription factor activity of p53. These abnormalities can abrogate p53 dependent pathways involved in important cellular functions like cell-cycle control, DNA repair, differentiation, genomic plasticity and programmed cell death. A number of different carcinogens have been found to cause different characteristic mutations in the p53 gene. For example, exposure to ultraviolet light is correlated with transition mutations at dipyrimidine sites; aflatoxin B(1) exposure is correlated with a G:C to T:A transversion that leads to a serine substitution at residue 249 of p53 in hepatocellular carcinoma; and exposure to cigarette smoke is correlated with G:C to T:A transversions in lung carcinoma. Therefore, measuring the characteristic p53 mutation load or frequency of mutated alleles in nontumorous tissue (before the clonal expansion of mutated cells), can generate hypotheses, e.g., providing a molecular linkage between exposure to a particular carcinogen and cancer, and identifying individuals at increased cancer risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aflatoxin B1 / toxicity
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / toxicity
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / toxicity
  • Codon / genetics
  • Genes, p53*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation*
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Nitric Oxide / toxicity
  • Sunlight / adverse effects


  • Carcinogens
  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Codon
  • Nitric Oxide
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Aflatoxin B1