Why are there hotspot mutations in the TP53 gene in human cancers?

Evan H. Baugh, Hua Ke, Arnold J. Levine, Richard A. Bonneau, Chang S. Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The p53 gene contains homozygous mutations in ∼ 50-60% of human cancers. About 90% of these mutations encode missense mutant proteins that span ∼ 190 different codons localized in the DNA-binding domain of the gene and protein. These mutations produce a protein with a reduced capacity to bind to a specific DNA sequence that regulates the p53 transcriptional pathway. Eight of these mutations are localized in codons that account for ∼ 28% of the total p53 mutations and these alleles appear to be selected for preferentially in human cancers of many tissue types. This article explores the question 'Why are there hotspot mutations in the p53 gene in human cancers?' Four possible reasons for this are considered; (1) the hotspot mutant alleles produce a protein that has a highly altered structure, (2) environmental mutagens produce allele-specific changes in the p53 gene, (3) these mutations arise at selected sites in the gene due to a specific DNA sequence, such as a methylated cytosine residue in a CpG dinucleotide, which has a higher mutation rate changing C to T nucleotides, (4) along with the observed change in mutant p53 proteins, which produce a loss of function (DNA binding and transcription), some mutant proteins have an allele-specific gain of function that promotes cancer. Evidence is presented that demonstrates the first three possibilities all contribute some property to this list of hotspot mutations. The fourth possibility remains to be tested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-160
Number of pages7
JournalCell Death and Differentiation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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