Purpose of review: The p53 tumor suppressor is a master regulator of antitumor defenses through its control of growth arrest, senescence and apoptosis. In recent years, p53 regulation was found to extend to a variety of biological processes including autophagy, fertility, metabolism and immune responses. Here, we focus on the role of p53 in the immune system. We explore the relationship between p53 and the innate immune response with particular emphasis on the Toll-like receptor (TLR) pathway and implications for cancer therapy.
Recent findings: Numerous studies have shown that the immune system, especially innate immunity, has a critical role in tumor development. It appears that p53 can influence innate immune responses as part of its tumor suppressor activities and recent work suggests that the complete set of innate immune TLR genes are responsive to chromosomal stress and the transcriptional network regulated by p53. Activation of p53 by common antitumor agents results in p53 dependent regulation of expression of most TLR genes in human primary and cancer cell lines, resulting in modulation of TLR downstream responses to cognate ligands. In addition several tumor-associated p53 mutants can also affect TLR gene expression. These observations together with the discovery of other immune-related p53 target genes provide new insights into the relationship between p53 and immunity and suggest approaches that might be useful in cancer therapies.
Summary: The tumor suppressor p53 can modulate innate immune gene responses in response to factors that can activate p53. This is expected to provide new opportunities in cancer diagnosis and in chemotherapeutic strategies that employ specific TLR agonists or antagonists that target the TLR pathway.