Immunohistochemical staining patterns of p53 can serve as a surrogate marker for TP53 mutations in ovarian carcinoma: an immunohistochemical and nucleotide sequencing analysis

Mod Pathol. 2011 Sep;24(9):1248-53. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2011.85. Epub 2011 May 6.


Immunohistochemical staining for p53 is used as a surrogate for mutational analysis in the diagnostic workup of carcinomas of multiple sites including ovarian cancers. Strong and diffuse immunoexpression of p53 is generally interpreted as likely indicating a TP53 gene mutation. The immunoprofile that correlates with wild-type TP53, however, is not as clear. In particular, the significance of completely negative immunostaining is controversial. The aim of this study was to clarify the relationship of the immunohistochemical expression of p53 with the mutational status of the TP53 gene in ovarian cancer. A total of 57 ovarian carcinomas (43 high-grade serous ovarian/peritoneal carcinomas, 2 malignant mesodermal mixed tumors (carcinosarcomas), 2 low-grade serous carcinomas, 4 clear cell carcinomas, 1 well-differentiated endometrioid carcinoma, and 5 carcinomas with mixed epithelial differentiation) were analyzed for TP53 mutations by nucleotide sequencing (exons 4-9), and subjected to immunohistochemical analysis of p53 expression. Thirty six tumors contained functional mutations and 13 had wild type TP53. Five tumors were found to harbor known TP53 polymorphism and changes in the intron region were detected in three. Tumors with wild-type TP53 displayed a wide range of immunolabeling patterns, with the most common pattern showing ≤10% of positive cells in 6 cases (46%). Mutant TP53 was associated with 60-100% positive cells in 23 cases (64% of cases). This pattern of staining was also seen in three cases with wild-type TP53. Tumors that were completely negative (0% cells staining) had a mutation of TP53 in 65% of cases and wild-type TP53 in 11%. Combining two immunohistochemical labeling patterns associated with TP53 mutations (0% and 60-100% positive cells), correctly identified a mutation in 94% of cases (P<0.001). Immunohistochemical analysis can be used as a robust method for inferring the presence of a TP53 mutation in ovarian carcinomas. In addition to a strong and diffuse pattern of p53 expression (in greater than 60% of cells), complete absence of p53 immunoexpression is commonly associated with a TP53 mutation. Accordingly, this latter pattern, unlike low-level expression (10-50% cells), should not be construed as indicative of wild-type TP53.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics*
  • DNA Mutational Analysis / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mutation
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics*
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • TP53 protein, human
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53