Neuronal life and death: an essential role for the p53 family

Cell Death Differ. 2000 Oct;7(10):880-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.cdd.4400736.


Recent evidence indicates that the p53 tumor suppressor protein, and its related family member, p73, play an essential role in regulating neuronal apoptosis in both the developing and injured, mature nervous system. In the developing nervous system, they do so by regulating naturally-occurring cell death in neural progenitor cells and in postmitotic neurons, acting to ensure the apoptosis of cells that either do not appropriately undergo the progenitor to postmitotic neuron transition, or that fail to compete for sufficient quantities of trophic support. Somewhat surprisingly, in developing postmitotic neurons, p53 plays a proapoptotic role, while a naturally-occurring, truncated form of p73, DeltaNp73, antagonizes p53 and plays an anti-apoptotic role. In the mature nervous system, numerous studies indicate that p53 is essential for the neuronal death in response to a variety of insults, including DNA damage, ischemia and excitotoxicity. It is likely that all of these insults culminate in DNA damage, which may well be a common trigger for neuronal apoptosis. In this regard, the signaling pathways that are responsible for triggering p53-dependent neuronal apoptosis are starting to be elucidated, and involve cell cycle deregulation and activation of the JNK pathway. Finally, accumulating evidence indicates that p53 is perturbed in the CNS in a number of neurodegenerative disorders, leading to the hypothesis that longterm oxidative damage and/or excitotoxicity ultimately trigger p53-dependent apoptosis in the chronically degenerating nervous system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death / physiology*
  • Genes, p53 / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / physiology*