p53 and Nur77/TR3 - transcription factors that directly target mitochondria for cell death induction

Oncogene. 2006 Aug 7;25(34):4725-43. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1209601.


The complex apoptotic functions of the p53 tumor suppressor are central to its antineoplastic activity in vivo. Conversely, p53 function is altered or attenuated in one way or another in the majority of human cancers. Besides its well-understood action as a transcriptional regulator of multiple apoptotic genes, p53 also exerts a direct pro-apoptotic role at the mitochondria by engaging in protein-protein interactions with anti- and pro-apoptotic Bcl2 family members, thereby executing the shortest known circuitry of p53 death signaling. Nur77, also known as TR3 or NGFI-B, is a unique transcription factor belonging to the orphan nuclear receptor superfamily. Even more extreme than p53, Nur77 can exert opposing biological activities of survival and death. Its activities are regulated by subcellular distribution, expression levels, protein modification and heterodimerization with retinoid X receptor. In cancer cells, Nur77 functions in the nucleus as an oncogenic survival factor, but becomes a potent killer when certain death stimuli induce its migration to mitochondria, where it binds to Bcl2 and conformationally converts it to a killer that triggers cytochrome c release and apoptosis. This review focuses on their unexpected transcription-independent pro-death programs at mitochondria and highlights the remarkable mechanistic similarities between them. Moreover, an accumulating body of evidence provides ample rationale to further investigate how these mitochondrial p53 and Nur77 pathways could become exploitable targets for new cancer therapeutics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Cytosol / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 1
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Phosphorylation
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / physiology*
  • Receptors, Steroid / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / physiology*
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein / physiology
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / physiology


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • NR4A1 protein, human
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 4, Group A, Member 1
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Receptors, Steroid
  • TP53 protein, human
  • Transcription Factors
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • bcl-2 Homologous Antagonist-Killer Protein
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein