Translocation of p53 to mitochondria is regulated by its lipid binding property to anionic phospholipids and it participates in cell death control

Neoplasia. 2010 Feb;12(2):150-60. doi: 10.1593/neo.91500.


p53, can regulate cell apoptosis in both transcription-dependent and -independent manners. The transcription-independent pathway was demonstrated by the translocation of p53 to mitochondria. Our study showed that p53 mitochondrial translocation was found in mitomycin C (MMC)-treated HepG2. The p53 C-terminal domain is clustered with potential nuclear leading sequences and showed strong electrostatic ion-ion interactions with cardiolipin, phosphatidylglycerol and phosphatidic acid in vitro. Disruption of cardiolipin biosynthesis by phosphatidylglycero-phosphate synthase (PGS) or CDP-diacylglycerol synthase 2 (CDS-2) short hairpin RNA (shRNA) transfection eliminated the MMC-induced translocation of mitochondrial p53. The elimination of mitochondrial p53 translocation also reduced Bcl-xL and Bcl-2 mitochondrial distribution. In HEK 293T models with saturated p53 expression, the mitochondrial partition of p53, Bcl-xL, and Bcl-2 obviously decreased in their PGS shRNA- or CDS-2 shRNA-expressing stable clones. In p53-null H1299 models, both the mitochondrial partitions of Bcl-xL and Bcl-2 were strongly reduced in relation to the HEK 293T models. The Bcl-xL mitochondrial partition was elevated in H1299 models expressing pCEP4-p53wt suggesting the direct carrier role of p53 in transporting Bcl-xL to the mitochondria. We also found that the cytosolic pool of Bcl-xL and Bcl-2 remained unaffected in the low-dose MMC treatment but decreased in the high-dose MMC treatment. The cytosolic pool of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL directly regulated their amounts in p53-dependent mitochondrial distribution. In the low-dose MMC treatment, the increased mitochondrial p53, Bcl-xL, and Bcl-2 could attenuate apoptosis. However, in the high-dose MMC treatment, only the p53 translocated to the mitochondria and resulted in apoptosis progression. On the basis of this study, we thought mitochondrial p53 might regulate apoptosis in a biphasic manner.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis / physiology*
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Nucleus / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Phospholipids / metabolism
  • Protein Transport / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2 / metabolism
  • Transfection
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*
  • bcl-X Protein / metabolism


  • Phospholipids
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • bcl-X Protein