The balance between rRNA and ribosomal protein synthesis up- and downregulates the tumour suppressor p53 in mammalian cells

Oncogene. 2011 Jul 21;30(29):3274-88. doi: 10.1038/onc.2011.48. Epub 2011 Mar 14.


Data on the relationship between ribosome biogenesis and p53 function indicate that the tumour suppressor can be activated by either nucleolar disruption or ribosomal protein defects. However, there is increasing evidence that the induction of p53 does not always require these severe cellular changes, and data are still lacking on a possible role of ribosome biogenesis in the downregulation of p53. Here, we studied the effect of the up- and downregulation of the rRNA transcription rate on p53 induction in mammalian cells. We found that a downregulation of rRNA synthesis, induced by silencing the POLR1A gene coding for the RNA polymerase I catalytic subunit, stabilised p53 without altering the nucleolar integrity in human cancer cells. p53 stabilisation was due to the inactivation of the MDM2-mediated p53 degradation by the binding of ribosomal proteins no longer used for ribosome building. p53 stabilisation did not occur when rRNA synthesis downregulation was associated with a contemporary reduction of protein synthesis. Furthermore, we demonstrated that in three different experimental models characterised by an upregulation of rRNA synthesis, cancer cells treated with insulin or exposed to the insulin-like growth factor 1, rat liver stimulated by cortisol and regenerating rat liver after partial hepatectomy, the p53 protein level was reduced due to a lowered ribosomal protein availability for MDM2 binding. It is worth noting that the upregulation of rRNA synthesis was responsible for a decreased p53-mediated response to cytotoxic stresses. These findings demonstrated that the balance between rRNA and ribosomal protein synthesis controls the function of p53 in mammalian cells, that p53 can be induced without the occurrence of severe changes of the cellular components controlling ribosome biogenesis, and that conditions characterised by an upregulated rRNA synthesis are associated with a reduced p53 response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cell Nucleolus / metabolism
  • Down-Regulation*
  • Gene Silencing
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex / metabolism
  • RNA, Ribosomal / biosynthesis*
  • RNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Rats
  • Ribosomal Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Ribosomal Proteins / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*
  • Up-Regulation*


  • RNA, Ribosomal
  • Ribosomal Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Proteasome Endopeptidase Complex