The role of the p53 protein in stem-cell biology and epigenetic regulation

Arnold J. Levine, Anna M. Puzio-Kuter, Chang S. Chan, Pierre Hainaut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The p53 protein plays a passive and an active role in stem cells. The transcriptional activities of p53 for cell-cycle arrest and DNA repair are largely turned off in stem cells, but there is some indication that long-term stem-cell viabilitymay require other p53-regulated functions. When p53 is activated in stem cells, it stops cell division and promotes the commitment to a differentiation pathway and the formation of progenitor cells. In the absence of any p53 activity, stem-cell replication continues and mistakes in the normal epigenetic pathway occur at a higher probability. In the presence of a functionally active p53 protein, epigenetic stability is enforced and stem-cell replication is regulated by commitment to differentiation. Over a lifetime of an organism, stem-cell clones compete in a tissue niche for Darwinian replicative advantages and in doing so accumulate mutations that permit stem-cell replication. Mutations in the p53 gene give stem cells this advantage, increase the clonal stem-cell population, and lower the age at which cancers can occur. Li-Fraumeni patients that inherit p53 mutations develop tumors in a tissue-type-specific fashion at younger ages. Throughout the life of a Li-Fraumeni patient, the tumor types that arise occur in tissues where stem cells are active and cell division is most rapid. Thus, p53 mutations that are inherited or occur during developmental life act in stem cells of the mesenchymal and epithelial lineages, whereas p53 mutations that occur in progenitor or differentiated (somatic) cells later in life function in tissues of endodermal origins, indicating that p53 may function differently in different developmental lineages.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbera026153
JournalCold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The role of the p53 protein in stem-cell biology and epigenetic regulation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this