Role of three cancer "master genes" p53, bcl2 and c-myc on the apoptotic process

Tumori. May-Jun 1996;82(3):205-9.


We review some of the most recent developments concerning three genes involved in human cancer: p53, bcl2 and c-myc. Recent data have demonstrated that the bcl2 gene protects tumor cells from apoptosis induced by a variety of agents, including ionizing radiation, and is thus related to resistance to DNA-damaging therapeutic agents. The p53 tumor suppressor gene, however, has been related with growth arrest, apoptosis and thus with selective sensitivity to the killing effects of ionizing radiation and DNA-damaging drugs. This functional antagonism between the two genes was recently substantiated in molecular terms by demonstration of reciprocal down-regulation due to the presence of a p53-dependent transcription silencer in the untranslated region of the bcl2 gene. Growth arrest in the G1 phase of the cell cycle and induction of apoptosis are two distinct and dissectable functions of p53: bcl2 is able to antagonize the induction of apoptosis by p53, but not the growth arrest in G1. However, coexpression of bcl2 and of the oncogene c-myc efficiently antagonizes effects of p53 on G1 arrest and apoptosis, thus suggesting a cooperation between the two oncogenes. In addition, c-myc disrupts other functions of genetic control in the early G1 phase of the cell cycle including the expression of D1 cyclin. We believe that knowledge of the functional/molecular interactions between these three genes involved in human cancer is a fundamental prerequisite to improve the knowledge on prognosis and to design innovative therapeutic approaches.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Genes, myc / physiology*
  • Genes, p53 / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics*
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2