Tumor protein p53, also known as p53, cellular tumor antigen p53(UniProt name), phosphoprotein p53, tumor suppressor p53, antigen NY-CO-13, or transformation-related protein 53 (TRP53), is any isoform of a protein encoded by homologous genes in various organisms, such as TP53 (humans) and Trp53 (mice).
This homolog (originally thought to be, and often spoken of as, a single protein) is crucial in multicellular organisms, where it prevents cancer formation, thus, functions as a tumor suppressor.
As such, p53 has been described as “the guardian of the genome” because of its role in conserving stability by preventing genome mutation. Hence TP53 is classified as a tumor suppressor gene. (Italics are used to denote the TP53 gene name and distinguish it from the protein it encodes.)
p53 becomes activated in response to myriad stressors, including but not limited to DNA damage (induced by either UV, IR, or chemical agents such as hydrogen peroxide), oxidative stress, osmotic shock, ribonucleotide depletion, and deregulated oncogene expression. This activation is marked by two major events. First, the half-life of the p53 protein is increased drastically, leading to a quick accumulation of p53 in stressed cells. Second, a conformational change forces p53 to be activated as a transcription regulator in these cells. The critical event leading to the activation of p53 is the phosphorylation of its N-terminal domain. The N-terminal transcriptional activation domain contains a large number of phosphorylation sites and can be considered as the primary target for protein kinases transducing stress signals.
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 and CHK2, DNA-PK, CAK, TP53RK) is implicated in the genome integrity checkpoint, a molecular cascade that detects and responds to several forms of DNA damage caused by genotoxic stress. Oncogenes also stimulate p53 activation, mediated by the protein p14ARF.
In unstressed cells, p53 levels are kept low through a continuous degradation of p53. A protein called Mdm2 (also called HDM2 in humans), binds to p53, preventing its action and transports it from the nucleus to the cytosol. Also Mdm2 acts as ubiquitin ligase and covalently attaches ubiquitin to p53 and thus marks p53 for degradation by the proteasome. However, ubiquitylation of p53 is reversible.
The novel molecule MI-63 binds to MDM2 making the action of p53 again possible in situations were p53’s function has become inhibited.
A ubiquitin specific protease, USP7 (or HAUSP), can cleave ubiquitin off p53, thereby protecting it from proteasome-dependent degradation via the ubiquitin ligase pathway. This is one means by which p53 is stabilized in response to oncogenic insults. USP42 has also been shown to deubiquitinate p53 and may be required for the ability of p53 to respond to stress