The name p53 is in reference to its apparent molecular mass: it runs as a 53 kilodalton (kDa) protein on SDS-PAGE. But based on calculations from its amino acid residues, p53's mass is actually only 43.7kDa. This difference is due to the high number of proline residues in the protein which slow its migration on SDS-PAGE, thus making it appear larger than it actually is. This effect is observed with p53 from a variety of species, including humans, rodents, frogs and fish.
The gene is on different locations in other animals:
(Italics are used to distinguish the TP53 gene name from the protein it encodes.)
Mutations that deactivate p53 in cancer usually occur in the DBD. Most of these mutations destroy the ability of the protein to bind to its target DNA sequences, and thus prevents transcriptional activation of these genes. As such, mutations in the DBD are recessive loss-of-function mutations. Molecules of p53 with mutations in the OD dimerise with wild-type p53, and prevent them from activating transcription. Therefore OD mutations have a dominant negative effect on the function of p53.
p53 is central to many of the cell's anti-cancer mechanisms. It can induce growth arrest, apoptosis and cell senescence. In normal cells p53 is usually inactive, bound to the protein MDM2 (also called HDM2 in humans), which prevents its action and promotes its degradation by acting as ubiquitin ligase. Active p53 is induced after the effects of various cancer-causing agents such as UV radiation, oncogenes and some DNA-damaging drugs. DNA damage is sensed by 'checkpoints' in a cell's cycle, and causes proteins such as ATM, CHK1 and CHK2 to phosphorylate p53 at sites that are close to or within the MDM2-binding region and p300-binding region of the protein. Oncogenes also stimulate p53 activation, mediated by the protein p14ARF. Some oncogenes can also stimulate the transcription of proteins which bind to MDM2 and inhibit its activity. Once activated p53 activates expression of several genes including one encoding for p21. p21 binds to the G1-S/CDK and S/CDK complexes (molecules important for the G1/S transition in the cell cycle) inhibiting their activity. p53 has many anticancer mechanisms, and plays a role in apoptosis, genetic stability, and inhibition of angiogenesis.
The p53 gene has been mapped to chromosome 17. In the cell, p53 protein binds DNA, which in turn stimulates another gene to produce a protein called p21 that interacts with a cell division-stimulating protein (cdk2). When p21 is complexed with cdk2 the cell cannot pass through to the next stage of cell division. Mutant p53 can no longer bind DNA in an effective way, and as a consequence the p21 protein is not made available to act as the 'stop signal' for cell division. Thus cells divide uncontrollably, and form tumors.
Recent research has also linked the p53 and RB1 pathways, via p14ARF, raising the possibility that the pathways may regulate each other.
The protein kinases that are known to target this transcriptional activation domain of p53 can be roughly divided into two groups. A first group of protein kinases belongs to the MAPK family (JNK1-3, ERK1-2, p38 MAPK), which is known to respond to several types of stress, such as membrane damage, oxidative stress, osmotic shock, heat shock, etc... A second group of protein kinases (ATR, ATM, Chk1, Chk2, DNA-PK, CAK) is implicated in the genome integrity checkpoint, a molecular cascade that detects and responds to several forms of DNA damage caused by genotoxic stress.
In unstressed cells, p53 levels are kept low through a continuous degradation of p53. A protein called Mdm2 binds to p53 and transports it from the nucleus to the cytosol where it becomes degraded by the proteasome. Phosphorylation of the N-terminal end of p53 by the above-mentioned protein kinases disrupts Mdm2-binding. Other proteins, such as Pin1, are then recruited to p53 and induce a conformational change in p53 which prevents Mdm2-binding even more. Trancriptional coactivators, like p300 or PCAF, then acetylate the carboxy-terminal end of p53, exposing the DNA binding domain of p53, allowing it to activate or repress specific genes. Deacetylase enzymes, such as Sirt1 and Sirt7, can deacetylate p53, leading to an inhibition of apoptosis.
Certain pathogens can also affect the p53 protein that the TP53 gene expresses. One such example, the Human papillomavirus (HPV), encodes a protein, E6, which binds the p53 protein and inactivates it. This, in synergy with the inactivation of another cell cycle regulator, p105RB, allows for repeated cell division manifestested in the clinical disease of warts.
In healthy humans, the p53 protein is continually produced and degraded in the cell. The degradation of the p53 protein is, as mentioned, associated with MDM2 binding. In a negative feedback loop MDM2 is itself induced by the p53 protein. However mutant p53 proteins often don't induce MDM2, and are thus able to accumulate at very high concentrations. Worse, mutant p53 protein itself can inhibit normal p53 protein levels.
It was initially presumed to be an oncogene due to the use of mutated cDNA following purification of tumour cell mRNA. Its character as a tumor suppressor gene was finally revealed in 1989 by Bert Vogelstein working at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Warren Maltzman, of the Waksman Institute of Rutgers University first demonstrated that TP53 was responsive to DNA damage in the form of ultraviolet radiation. In a series of publications in 1991-92, Michael Kastan, Johns Hopkins University, reported that TP53 was a critical part of a signal transduction pathway that helped cells respond to DNA damage.
In 1993, p53 was voted molecule of the year by Science magazine.