Cancer Res Treat.  2004 Feb;36(1):6-12.

p63 and p73 in Tumor Suppression and Promotion

  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Harvard Medical School, USA.


The recent discovery of two genes, termed p63 and p73, encoding transcription factors highly homologous to p53 presents unexpected challenges and opportunities for the understanding and treatment of cancers. The questions raised are many but center on determining whether these new genes possess novel tumor suppressor functions, cooperate with p53, or impart oncogenic effects. At present there is considerable discord in the field concerning these concepts with some favoring a tumor suppressor role for the p53 family members and others an oncogenic influence. In support of a tumor suppressor role is the ability of p73 and p63 isoforms to transactivate p53 target genes and the large body of work linking p73, and to some extent p63, in apoptotic events in response to cellular stresses generally considered the purview of p53. More recently, p73 has been implicated in cell death following T cell activation, the response of cancers to chemotherapy, and finally, along with p63, to the function of p53 itself. Opposing this view is the fact that the p73 and p63 genes are rarely mutated in cancers and the stark absence of tumors in the p73 null mouse. Moreover, the high expression of dominant negative (dn) versions of the p73 and p63 proteins supports an anti-p53 function and therefore possibly an oncogenic effect. Indeed, the p63 gene is located in a region of chromosome three amplified in squamous cell carcinomas and the number of reports of dn-p63 overexpression in these diseases is increasing. This review will examine both sides of these arguments in an attempt to decipher common themes and to identify opportunities these genes represent for understanding tumorigenesis.


p53; p63; p73; Tumor suppression; DNA damage
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