TP53: an oncogene in disguise

Cell Death Differ. 2015 Aug;22(8):1239-49. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2015.53. Epub 2015 May 29.


The standard classification used to define the various cancer genes confines tumor protein p53 (TP53) to the role of a tumor suppressor gene. However, it is now an indisputable fact that many p53 mutants act as oncogenic proteins. This statement is based on multiple arguments including the mutation signature of the TP53 gene in human cancer, the various gains-of-function (GOFs) of the different p53 mutants and the heterogeneous phenotypes developed by knock-in mouse strains modeling several human TP53 mutations. In this review, we will shatter the classical and traditional image of tumor protein p53 (TP53) as a tumor suppressor gene by emphasizing its multiple oncogenic properties that make it a potential therapeutic target that should not be underestimated. Analysis of the data generated by the various cancer genome projects highlights the high frequency of TP53 mutations and reveals that several p53 hotspot mutants are the most common oncoprotein variants expressed in several types of tumors. The use of Muller's classical definition of mutations based on quantitative and qualitative consequences on the protein product, such as 'amorph', 'hypomorph', 'hypermorph' 'neomorph' or 'antimorph', allows a more meaningful assessment of the consequences of cancer gene modifications, their potential clinical significance, and clearly demonstrates that the TP53 gene is an atypical cancer gene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aza Compounds / metabolism
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Maleimides / metabolism
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism*


  • 1-(propoxymethyl)maleimide
  • Aza Compounds
  • Bridged Bicyclo Compounds, Heterocyclic
  • Maleimides
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • 2,2-bis(hydroxymethyl)-1-azabicyclo(2,2,2,)octan-3-one