To die or not to die: how does p53 decide?

Oncogene. 2004 Apr 12;23(16):2809-18. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1207516.


p53 is frequently mutated in cancer and as a result is one of the most intensely studied tumour suppressors. Analysis of the primitive forms of p53 found in Caenorhabditis elegans and Drosophila, alongside studies using transgenic mouse models, indicate that the induction of apoptosis is both the most conserved function of p53 and vital for tumour suppression. p53-mediated apoptosis occurs through a combination of mechanisms which include pathways that are both dependent and independent of alterations in gene expression. In response to genotoxic insult, these pathways probably act together, thereby amplifying the apoptotic signal. However, the picture is complicated because the p53 activity is determined by stress type and individual cellular characteristics. The numerous p53 responsive genes that have been identified also provide further means of controlling the actions of p53. The recent discoveries of proteins that interact with p53 and specifically regulate the ability of p53 to trigger apoptosis have provided further mechanistic insights into the role of p53 in inducing cell death. Understanding the molecular basis of the proapoptotic action of p53 can assist in our quest to reintroduce or reactivate p53 in human tumours.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Genes, p53
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology*


  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53