Thep53 tumor suppressor pathway in culture and in vivo

Valerie Reinke, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


p53 functions as a tumor suppressor through its ability to initiate either growth arrest or apoptosis in cells which have sustained DNA damage. p53 elicits these cellular phenotypes through its biochemical function as a transcriptional activator. By inducing the expression of a battery of target genes, p53 is able to prevent the propagation of cells with damaged DNA. However, the genes transcriptionally induced by p53 which have been identified to date do not fully explain p53 function. p53 has been demonstrated to activate genes involved in cell cycle inhibition, apoptosis and cell proliferation. The reasons for simultaneous activation of p53 targets with disparate, opposing functions are not clear, but may be due to the use of transformed cell lines in previous experiments. In the studies presented in this thesis, the pathway of p53 tumor suppression has been studied in detail in two systems chosen for their relevance to the natural cell environment. One utilizes a normal, unaltered cultured cell system; the other the whole mouse. In order to better understand the role of the known p53 targets in effecting p53 function in normal cells, early rat embryo fibroblasts were irradiated with ultraviolet light to induce DNA damage. It was discovered that p53 protein levels increased in response to irradiation. The known targets of p53, namely, $p21\sp{WAF1/CIP1},\ mdm2,\ cyclin\ G,$ and bax, were shown for the first time to have a differential temporal induction. The growth suppressor $p21\sp{WAF1/CIP1}$ was induced first, followed by cyclin G then mdm2, which is involved in proliferation through its inactivation of p53, and finally, the apoptosis promoter, bax. These findings indicated that p53 activates its target genes in a manner to allow maximum effectiveness of target function. The rat embryo fibroblasts were shown to undergo apoptosis 24 h after irradiation. Additionally, investigation of these cells for cell cycle alterations demonstrated a brief arrest in G1. In the second study, thymocytes from mice with wild type p53 were shown to undergo apoptosis and activate p53 target genes upon ionizing radiation treatment, while thymocytes from mice deficient in p53 could not. The p53 target genes mdm2 and fas were tested in vivo for their ability to mediate p53-regulated apoptosis, and were found dispensible for that cellular function. Therefore, the p53 targets identified to date do not fully explain the ability of p53 to function as a tumor suppressor. Potentially, functional redundancy between the known targets would account for the data seen in these experiments. Additionally, identification of additional target genes should add further understanding of the p53 pathway of tumor suppression.

Subject Area

Molecular biology|Oncology

Recommended Citation

Reinke, Valerie, "Thep53 tumor suppressor pathway in culture and in vivo" (1996). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9626095.