p53 deletion rescues lethal microcephaly in a mouse model with neural stem cell abscission defects

Hum Mol Genet. 2019 Feb 1;28(3):434-447. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddy350.


Building a cerebral cortex of the proper size involves balancing rates and timing of neural stem cell (NSC) proliferation, neurogenesis and cell death. The cellular mechanisms connecting genetic mutations to brain malformation phenotypes are still poorly understood. Microcephaly may result when NSC divisions are too slow, produce neurons too early or undergo apoptosis but the relative contributions of these cellular mechanisms to various types of microcephaly are not understood. We previously showed that mouse mutants in Kif20b (formerly called Mphosph1, Mpp1 or KRMP1) have small cortices that show elevated apoptosis and defects in maturation of NSC midbodies, which mediate cytokinetic abscission. Here we test the contribution of intrinsic NSC apoptosis to brain size reduction in this lethal microcephaly model. By making double mutants with the pro-apoptotic genes Bax and Trp53 (p53), we find that p53-dependent apoptosis of cortical NSCs accounts for most of the microcephaly, but that there is a significant apoptosis-independent contribution as well. Remarkably, heterozygous p53 deletion is sufficient to fully rescue survival of the Kif20b mutant into adulthood. In addition, the NSC midbody maturation defects are not rescued by p53 deletion, showing that they are either upstream of p53 activation, or in a parallel pathway. Accumulation of p53 in the nucleus of mutant NSCs at midbody stage suggests the possibility of a novel midbody-mediated pathway for p53 activation. This work elucidates both NSC apoptosis and abscission mechanisms that could underlie human microcephaly or other brain malformations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Proliferation / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genes, p53 / genetics*
  • Genes, p53 / physiology
  • Kinesins / genetics
  • Kinesins / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Microcephaly / genetics*
  • Microcephaly / physiopathology
  • Mutation
  • Neural Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Neurogenesis / genetics
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / genetics
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein / physiology


  • Bax protein, mouse
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • bcl-2-Associated X Protein
  • KIF20B protein, mouse
  • Kinesins