The p53 tumor suppressor gene: from molecular biology to clinical investigation

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000 Jun;910:121-37; discussion 137-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2000.tb06705.x.


The tumor suppressor p53 is a phosphoprotein barely detectable in the nucleus of normal cells. Upon cellular stress, particularly that induced by DNA damage, p53 can arrest cell cycle progression, thus allowing the DNA to be repaired; or it can lead to apoptosis. These functions are achieved, in part, by the transactivational properties of p53, which activate a series of genes involved in cell cycle regulation. In cancer cells bearing a mutant p53, this protein is no longer able to control cell proliferation, resulting in inefficient DNA repair and the emergence of genetically unstable cells. The most common changes of p53 in human cancers are point missense mutations within the coding sequences of the gene. Such mutations are found in all major histogenetic groups, including cancers of the colon (60%), stomach (60%), breast (20%), lung (70%), brain (40%), and esophagus (60%). It is estimated that p53 mutations are the most frequent genetic event in human cancers, accounting for more than 50% of cases. One of the most striking features of the inactive mutant p53 protein is its increased stability (half-life of several hours, compared to 20 min for wild-type p53) and its accumulation in the nucleus of neoplastic cells. Therefore, positive immunostaining is indicative of abnormalities of the p53 gene and its product. Several studies have shown that p53 mutations are associated with short survival in colorectal cancer, but the use of p53 as a tumoral marker is still a matter of debate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Genes, Tumor Suppressor*
  • Genes, p53*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Neoplasms / pathology