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GEN News Highlights : Jun 10, 2010

Investigators Reveal New Role for p53

Study appearing in Science demonstrates that the gene is activated during meiosis.

A group of scientists have discovered that p53 plays a role in the development of meiosis. They suggest that the function of this gene as a tumor suppressor could result from the evolution of primitive activities related to the progression of meiosis.

The research team was led by John Abrams, Ph.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. The results appear in Science, and the paper is titled “Meiotic Recombination Provokes Functional Activation of the p53 Regulatory Network.”

p53 is known as the guardian of the genome since it prevents the accumulation of mutations originating either by the cell's own mechanisms or by the action of external agents. The investigators hypothesized that the evolutionary appearance of p53 protein probably preceded its role in tumor suppression, suggesting that there may be unappreciated functions for this protein.

Through the observation of genetically modified Drosophila, the team discovered that p53 becomes activated during the formation of gametes. Specifically, it becomes activated during meiosis. Repairing these breaks, which is essential for meiosis to complete correctly, must be controlled to prevent the accumulation of mutations and the possibility of their binding to the gametes. p53 is in charge of developing this process control mechanism, according to the researchers.

They additionally found that p53 activation during gametogenesis has been conserved throughout evolution. Similar activations during the formation of spermatozoids in mice were observed, which confirms the importance of this control mechanism.