The p53 gene is the most frequently mutated gene in human cancer. The identification of two homologues, p63 and p73, revealed that p53 is a member of a family of related transcription factors. Given that they share amino acid sequence identity reaching 63% in the DNA-binding domain, p53, p63 and p73 should have redundant functions in the regulation of gene expression. Indeed, p73 can activate p53-regulated genes and suppress growth or induce apoptosis. Moreover, p53 and p73 are both induced by DNA damage - albeit through distinct mechanisms. Other evidence, however, suggests that p63 and p73 are important for regulation of normal development. An extended C-terminal region, not found in p53, is alternatively spliced in p63 and p73. Within this C-terminal extension is a sterile α motif (SAM) previously found in other proteins that regulate development. The p63-deficient mice showed developmental abnormalities. Interestingly, the human p63 gene is mutated in children who have the disease Ectrodactyly, Ectodermal dysplasia and facial Clefts (EEC) syndrome, and the disease phenotype is similar to the one of p63-deficient mice. The p63 and p73 genes are rarely mutated in human cancer, although p73 loss is observed in neuroblastoma and a subtype of T-cell lymphoma. p53, p63 and p73 appear to have overlapping and distinct functions: p53 regulates the stress response to suppress tumors; p63 is essential for ectoderm development; and p73 might regulate both the stress response and development. Because p53 and p73 are linked to different upstream pathways, this family of transcription factors might regulate a common set of genes in response to different extracellular signals and developmental cues.
- © 2000 by Company of Biologists