p53 has been studied intensively as a major tumour suppressor that detects oncogenic events in cancer cells and eliminates them through senescence (a permanent non-proliferative state) or apoptosis. Consistent with this role, p53 activity is compromised in a high proportion of all cancer types, either through mutation of the TP53 gene (encoding p53) or changes in the status of p53 modulators. p53 has additional roles, which may overlap with its tumour-suppressive capacity, in processes including the DNA damage response, metabolism, aging, stem cell differentiation and fertility. Moreover, many mutant p53 proteins, termed 'gain-of-function' (GOF), acquire new activities that help drive cancer aggression. p53 is regulated mainly through protein turnover and operates within a negative-feedback loop with its transcriptional target, MDM2 (murine double minute 2), an E3 ubiquitin ligase which mediates the ubiquitylation and proteasomal degradation of p53. Induction of p53 is achieved largely through uncoupling the p53-MDM2 interaction, leading to elevated p53 levels. Various stress stimuli acting on p53 (such as hyperproliferation and DNA damage) use different, but overlapping, mechanisms to achieve this. Additionally, p53 activity is regulated through critical context-specific or fine-tuning events, mediated primarily through post-translational mechanisms, particularly multi-site phosphorylation and acetylation. In the present review, I broadly examine these events, highlighting their regulatory contributions, their ability to integrate signals from cellular events towards providing most appropriate response to stress conditions and their importance for tumour suppression. These are fascinating aspects of molecular oncology that hold the key to understanding the molecular pathology of cancer and the routes by which it may be tackled therapeutically.
- Post-translational modification
- Tumour suppressor