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Open Access Research article

Urodele p53 tolerates amino acid changes found in p53 variants linked to human cancer

Éric Villiard1, Henner Brinkmann1, Olga Moiseeva1, Frédérick A Mallette1, Gerardo Ferbeyre1* and Stéphane Roy12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, H3C 3J7, Canada

2 Department of Stomatology, Faculty of Dentistry, Université de Montréal, Montréal, QC, H3C 3J7, Canada

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:180  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-180

Published: 28 September 2007

Abstract

Background

Urodele amphibians like the axolotl are unique among vertebrates in their ability to regenerate and their resistance to develop cancers. It is unknown whether these traits are linked at the molecular level.

Results

Blocking p53 signaling in axolotls using the p53 inhibitor, pifithrin-α, inhibited limb regeneration and the expression of p53 target genes such as Mdm2 and Gadd45, suggesting a link between tumor suppression and regeneration. To understand this relationship we cloned the p53 gene from axolotl. When comparing its sequence with p53 from other organisms, and more specifically human we observed multiple amino acids changes found in human tumors. Phylogenetic analysis of p53 protein sequences from various species is in general agreement with standard vertebrate phylogeny; however, both mice-like rodents and teleost fishes are fast evolving. This leads to long branch attraction resulting in an artefactual basal emergence of these groups in the phylogenetic tree. It is tempting to assume a correlation between certain life style traits (e.g. lifespan) and the evolutionary rate of the corresponding p53 sequences. Functional assays of the axolotl p53 in human or axolotl cells using p53 promoter reporters demonstrated a temperature sensitivity (ts), which was further confirmed by performing colony assays at 37°C. In addition, axolotl p53 was capable of efficient transactivation at the Hmd2 promoter but has moderate activity at the p21 promoter. Endogenous axolotl p53 was activated following UV irradiation (100 j/m2) or treatment with an alkylating agent as measured using serine 15 phosphorylation and the expression of the endogenous p53 target Gadd45.

Conclusion

Urodele p53 may play a role in regeneration and has evolved to contain multiple amino acid changes predicted to render the human protein defective in tumor suppression. Some of these mutations were probably selected to maintain p53 activity at low temperature. However, other significant changes in the axolotl proteins may play more subtle roles on p53 functions, including DNA binding and promoter specificity and could represent useful adaptations to ensure p53 activity and tumor suppression in animals able to regenerate or subject to large variations in oxygen levels or temperature.