Aggregation and Prion-Like Properties of Misfolded Tumor Suppressors: Is Cancer a Prion Disease?

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2016 Oct 3;8(10):a023614. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a023614.


Prion diseases are disorders that share several characteristics that are typical of many neurodegenerative diseases. Recently, several studies have extended the prion concept to pathological aggregation in malignant tumors involving misfolded p53, a tumor-suppressor protein. The aggregation of p53 and its coaggregation with p53 family members, p63 and p73, have been shown. Certain p53 mutants exert a dominant-negative regulatory effect on wild-type (WT) p53. The basis for this dominant-negative effect is that amyloid-like mutant p53 converts WT p53 into an aggregated species, leading to a gain-of-function (GoF) phenotype and the loss of its tumor-suppressor function. Recently, it was shown that p53 aggregates can be internalized by cells and can coaggregate with endogenous p53, corroborating the prion-like properties of p53 aggregates. The prion-like behavior of oncogenic p53 mutants provides an explanation for its dominant-negative and GoF properties, including the high metastatic potential of cancer cells carrying p53 mutations. The inhibition of p53 aggregation appears to represent a promising target for therapeutic intervention in patients with malignant tumors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Genes, p53
  • Humans
  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Prion Diseases / metabolism*
  • Prions / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Folding*
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins / metabolism*


  • Intrinsically Disordered Proteins
  • Prions
  • Tumor Suppressor Proteins