Development Genes and Evolution

, Volume 217, Issue 11–12, pp 801–806 | Cite as

Early diversification and complex evolutionary history of the p53 tumor suppressor gene family

Sequence Corner


The p53 tumor suppressor plays the leading role in malignancy and in maintaining the genome’s integrity and stability. p53 belongs to a gene family that in vertebrates includes two additional members, p63 and p73. Although similar in sequence, gene structure, and expression potential, the three p53 members differ in domain organization (in addition to the transactivation, DNA-binding, and tetramerization domains, p63 and p73 encode a sterile alpha motif, SAM, domain) and functional roles (with p63 and p73 assuming additional key roles in development). It is interesting to note that outside vertebrates, p53-like sequences have only been found as single genes, of either the p53 or the p63/p73 type (i.e., without or with a SAM domain, respectively). In this paper, we report that the diversification of this family is not restricted to the vertebrate lineage, as both a p53- and a p63/p73-type sequence are present in the unicellular choanoflagellate, Monosiga brevicollis. Furthermore, multiple independent duplication events involving p53-type sequences took place in several other animal lineages (cnidarians, flat worms, insects). These findings argue that selective factors other than those associated with the evolution of vertebrates are also relevant to the diversification of this family. Understanding the selective pressures associated with the multiple independent duplication events that took place in the p53 family and the roles of p53-like proteins outside vertebrates will provide further insight into the evolution of this very important family. In addition, the presence of both a p53 and a p63/73 copy in the unicellular M. brevicollis argues for its suitability as a model system for elucidating the functions of the p53 members and the mechanisms associated with their functional diversification.


Tumor suppressor p53 gene family Monosiga brevicollis Evolution Gene duplication 



This research was supported by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada to A.M.N. Many of the sequences analyzed in this study were produced by the Joint Genome Institute (; Lottia, Capitella, Monosiga, Nematostella, Ciona, Branchiostoma, Xenopus), the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine (; Tribolium), and The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (; Schistosoma).

Supplementary material

427_2007_185_MOESM1_ESM.doc (850 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 870 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

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