Journal Article

p53-based cancer therapies: is defective p53 the Achilles heel of the tumor?

Aime A. Levesque and Alan Eastman

in Carcinogenesis

Volume 28, issue 1, pages 13-20
Published in print November 2006 | ISSN: 0143-3334
Published online January 2007 | e-ISSN: 1460-2180 | DOI:
p53-based cancer therapies: is defective p53 the Achilles heel of the tumor?

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The tumor suppressor protein p53 plays a pivotal role in the DNA damage response and is defective in >50% of human tumors, which has generated substantial interest in developing p53-targeted cancer therapies. Various therapeutic rationales targeting p53 are currently under investigation including attempts to both activate and inhibit p53. Elevation of p53 can be achieved by either reintroducing an exogenous p53 gene or by blocking its association with its negative regulator hDM2. An alternate approach involves reverting mutant p53 to its wild-type conformation. Inhibition of p53 activity can be achieved either by preventing p53-mediated gene expression or by inhibiting the mitochondrial pro-apoptotic interactions of p53. These approaches are based on the concept that activation of p53 in a tumor is cytotoxic while inhibition of p53 in normal cells will protect the patient. However, activation of p53 also induces cell cycle arrest that can protect most normal cells from DNA damage, and this is the reason why many p53-defective tumors are more sensitive to DNA damage. The development of cell cycle checkpoint inhibitors to abrogate DNA damage-induced arrest builds on this observation as p53-defective cells appear particularly sensitive. Thus, normal cells are protected from premature entry into mitosis and the subsequent mitotic catastrophe induced by checkpoint inhibitors, while p53-defective tumor cells are destroyed. These contradictory approaches must be resolved if we are to take full advantage of the frequent p53 defect in tumors.

Journal Article.  6315 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics

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