DNA repair processes are critical mediators of p53-dependent tumor suppression


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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Fig. 1: In vivo shRNA library screening to identify critical effectors of p53-mediated tumor suppression.
Fig. 2: Validation of candidate tumor suppressor genes.
Fig. 3: MLH1 is a critical contributor to p53-mediated tumor suppression.
Fig. 4: Several p53-regulated DNA repair genes function as tumor suppressor genes.


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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).

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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.

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Correspondence to Andreas Strasser.

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Supplementary Figures 1–20 and Supplementary Tables 2–4

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Supplementary Table 1

p53 gene targeted shRNA library

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Janic, A., Valente, L.J., Wakefield, M.J. et al. DNA repair processes are critical mediators of p53-dependent tumor suppression. Nat Med 24, 947–953 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-018-0043-5

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