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This article has been peer reviewed and is published in BMC Developmental Biology 2010, 10:102. The published version is available at DOI: 10.1186/1471-213X-10-102. ©BioMed Central Ltd.


BACKGROUND: The p53 protein family coordinates stress responses of cells and organisms. Alternative promoter usage and/or splicing of p53 mRNA gives rise to at least nine mammalian p53 proteins with distinct N- and C-termini which are differentially expressed in normal and malignant cells. The human N-terminal p53 variants contain either the full-length (FL), or a truncated (ΔN/Δ40) or no transactivation domain (Δ133) altogether. The functional consequences of coexpression of the different p53 isoforms are poorly defined. Here we investigated functional aspects of the zebrafish ΔNp53 ortholog in the context of FLp53 and the zebrafish Δ133p53 ortholog (Δ113p53) coexpressed in the developing embryo.

RESULTS: We cloned the zebrafish ΔNp53 isoform and determined that ionizing radiation increased expression of steady-state ΔNp53 and Δ113p53 mRNA levels in zebrafish embryos. Ectopic ΔNp53 expression by mRNA injection caused hypoplasia and malformation of the head, eyes and somites, yet partially counteracted lethal effects caused by concomitant expression of FLp53. FLp53 expression was required for developmental aberrations caused by ΔNp53 and for ΔNp53-dependent expression of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1A (CDKN1A, p21, Cip1, WAF1). Knockdown of p21 expression markedly reduced the severity of developmental malformations associated with ΔNp53 overexpression. By contrast, forced Δ113p53 expression had little effect on ΔNp53-dependent embryonal phenotypes. These functional attributes were shared between zebrafish and human ΔNp53 orthologs ectopically expressed in zebrafish embryos. All 3 zebrafish isoforms could be coimmunoprecipitated with each other after transfection into Saos2 cells.

CONCLUSIONS: Both alternative N-terminal p53 isoforms were expressed in developing zebrafish in response to cell stress and antagonized lethal effects of FLp53 to different degrees. However, in contrast to Δ113p53, forced ΔNp53 expression itself led to developmental defects which depended, in part, on p21 transactivation. In contrast to FLp53, the developmental abnormalities caused by ΔNp53 were not counteracted by concomitant expression of Δ113p53.

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