Robust p53 stabilization is dispensable for its activation and tumor suppressor function

Ning Kon, Michael Churchill, Huan Li, Siddhartha Mukherjee, James J. Manfredi, Wei Gu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


p53 is a short-lived protein with low basal levels under normal homeostasis conditions. However, upon DNA damage, levels of p53 dramatically increase for its activation. Although robust stabilization of p53 serves as a “trademark” for DNA damage responses, the requirement for such dramatic protein stabilization in tumor suppression has not been well addressed. Here we generated a mutant p53KQ mouse where all the C-terminal domain lysine residues were mutated to glutamines (K to Q mutations at K367, K369, K370, K378, K379, K383, and K384) to mimic constitutive acetylation of the p53 C-terminus. Because of p53 activation, p53KQ/KQ mice were perinatal lethal, yet this lethality was averted in p53KQ/- mice, which displayed normal postnatal development. Nevertheless, p53KQ/- mice died prematurely due to anemia and hematopoiesis failure. Further analyses indicated that expression of the acetylation-mimicking p53 mutant in vivo induces activation of p53 targets in various tissues without obviously increasing p53 levels. In the well-established pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) mouse model, expression of the acetylation-mimicking p53-mutant protein effectively suppressed K-Ras–induced PDAC development in the absence of robust p53 stabilization. Together, our results provide proof-of-principle evidence that p53-mediated transcriptional function and tumor suppression can be achieved independently of its robust stabilization and reveal an alternative approach to activate p53 function for therapeutic purposes. Significance: Although robust p53 stabilization is critical for acute p53 responses such as DNA damage, this study underscores the important role of low basal p53 protein levels in p53 activation and tumor suppression.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-944
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - 15 Feb 2021


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