Introduction: p53 – the first twenty years
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The p53 protein was discovered 20 years ago, as a cellular protein tightly bound to the large T oncoprotein of the SV40 DNA tumour virus. Since then, research on p53 has developed in many exciting and sometimes unexpected directions. p53 is now known to be the product of a major tumour suppressor gene that is the most common target for genetic alterations in human cancer. The nonmutated wild-type p53 protein (wtp53) is often found within cells in a latent state and is activated in response to various intracellular and extracellular signals. Activation involves an increase in overall p53 protein levels, as well as qualitative changes in the protein. Upon activation, wtp53 can induce a variety of cellular responses, most notable among which are cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. To a great extent, these effects are mediated by the ability of p53 to activate specific target genes. In addition, the p53 protein itself possesses biochemical functions which may facilitate DNA repair as well as apoptosis. The role of p53 in normal development and particularly in carcinogenesis has been elucidated in depth through the use of mouse model systems. The insights provided by p53 research over the years are now beginning to be utilized towards better diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of cancer.
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