Mutant p53: it's not all one and the same

Cell Death Differ. 2022 May;29(5):983-987. doi: 10.1038/s41418-022-00989-y. Epub 2022 Mar 31.


Mutation of the TP53 tumor suppressor gene is the most common genetic alteration in cancer, and almost 1000 alleles have been identified in human tumors. While virtually all TP53 mutations are thought to compromise wild type p53 activity, the prevalence and recurrence of missense TP53 alleles has motivated countless research studies aimed at understanding the function of the resulting mutant p53 protein. The data from these studies support three distinct, but perhaps not necessarily mutually exclusive, mechanisms for how different p53 mutants impact cancer: first, they lose the ability to execute wild type p53 functions to varying degrees; second, they act as a dominant negative (DN) inhibitor of wild type p53 tumor-suppressive programs; and third, they may gain oncogenic functions that go beyond mere p53 inactivation. Of these possibilities, the gain of function (GOF) hypothesis is the most controversial, in part due to the dizzying array of biological functions that have been attributed to different mutant p53 proteins. Herein we discuss the current state of understanding of TP53 allele variation in cancer and recent reports that both support and challenge the p53 GOF model. In these studies and others, researchers are turning to more systematic approaches to profile TP53 mutations, which may ultimately determine once and for all how different TP53 mutations act as cancer drivers and whether tumors harboring distinct mutations are phenotypically unique. From a clinical perspective, such information could lead to new therapeutic approaches targeting the effects of different TP53 alleles and/or better sub-stratification of patients harboring TP53 mutant cancers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Carcinogenesis / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mutant Proteins / metabolism
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53* / genetics
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53* / metabolism


  • Mutant Proteins
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53