It has long been assumed that p53 suppresses tumor development through induction of apoptosis, possibly with contributions by cell cycle arrest and cell senescence1,2. However, combined deficiency in these three processes does not result in spontaneous tumor formation as observed upon loss of p53, suggesting the existence of additional mechanisms that are critical mediators of p53-dependent tumor suppression function3,4,5. To define such mechanisms, we performed in vivo shRNA screens targeting p53-regulated genes in sensitized genetic backgrounds. We found that knockdown of Zmat3, Ctsf and Cav1, promoted lymphoma/leukemia development only when PUMA and p21, the critical effectors of p53-driven apoptosis, cell cycle arrest and senescence, were also absent. Notably, loss of the DNA repair gene Mlh1 caused lymphoma in a wild-type background, and its enforced expression was able to delay tumor development driven by loss of p53. Further examination of direct p53 target genes implicated in DNA repair showed that knockdown of Mlh1, Msh2, Rnf144b, Cav1 and Ddit4 accelerated MYC-driven lymphoma development to a similar extent as knockdown of p53. Collectively, these findings demonstrate that extensive functional overlap of several p53-regulated processes safeguards against cancer and that coordination of DNA repair appears to be an important process by which p53 suppresses tumor development.

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We thank S. Lowe, A. Lujambio, A. Ventura and C. Concepcion for the p53 target gene shRNA library and for discussions; M. Ritchie, W. Shi, Y. Liao for data analysis, J.M. Adams, P. Bouillet, S. Cory, K. Rajewsky and A. Villunger for gifts of mice and for discussions. This work was supported by postdoctoral fellowships from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of America, Marie Curie Actions and Beatriu de Pinos, and Lady Tata Memorial Trust to A.J. and by grants from Cancer Australia and Cure Cancer Australia Foundation (grant no. 1067571), the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC; program grant no. 1016701, NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow (SPRF) Fellowship 1020363 to A.S.), and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of America (Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant no. 7001-13), Australian Phenomics Network and a CCV Venture Grant. This work was made possible by operational infrastructure grants through the Australian Government Independent Medical Research Institutes Infrastructure Support Scheme (IRIISS) and the Victorian State Government Operational Infrastructure Support (OIS).

Author information

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Liz J. Valente, Matthew J. Wakefield.

  2. These authors jointly supervised this work: Liam O’Connor, Andreas Strasser, Marco J. Herold.


  1. Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    • Ana Janic
    • , Liz J. Valente
    • , Matthew J. Wakefield
    • , Leon Di Stefano
    • , Liz Milla
    • , Stephen Wilcox
    • , Haoyu Yang
    • , Lin Tai
    • , Cassandra J. Vandenberg
    • , Andrew J. Kueh
    • , Shinsuke Mizutani
    • , Margs S. Brennan
    • , Robyn L. Schenk
    • , Lisa M. Lindqvist
    • , Anthony T. Papenfuss
    • , Liam O’Connor
    • , Andreas Strasser
    •  & Marco J. Herold
  2. Department of Medical Biology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    • Ana Janic
    • , Liz J. Valente
    • , Liz Milla
    • , Stephen Wilcox
    • , Haoyu Yang
    • , Cassandra J. Vandenberg
    • , Andrew J. Kueh
    • , Shinsuke Mizutani
    • , Margs S. Brennan
    • , Robyn L. Schenk
    • , Lisa M. Lindqvist
    • , Anthony T. Papenfuss
    • , Liam O’Connor
    • , Andreas Strasser
    •  & Marco J. Herold
  3. Stanford University School of Medicine, Division of Radiation Oncology–Radiation and Cancer Biology, Stanford, CA, USA

    • Liz J. Valente
  4. Melbourne Bioinformatics, University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria, Australia

    • Matthew J. Wakefield
  5. School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

    • Haoyu Yang
  6. Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    • Anthony T. Papenfuss


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The experiments were conceived and designed by A.J., M.J.H., L.O. and A.S. Experiments were performed mainly by A.J. with help from L.J.V., H.Y., L.T., L.M., S.W., C.J.V., S.M., A.J.K., M.S.B., L.M.L. and R.L.S. Whole genome sequencing analysis was performed by L.D.S., M.J.W. and A.T.P. The paper was written by A.J., M.J.H., L.O. and A.S. with help from the other authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Andreas Strasser.

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    Supplementary Figures 1–20 and Supplementary Tables 2–4

  2. Reporting Summary

  3. Supplementary Table 1

    p53 gene targeted shRNA library

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