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p53 is a tumour suppressor gene which is often found to be inactivated in most types of human cancer. p53 is a transcription factor, the inactivation of which may lead to significant variations in the levels of p53 downstream proteins, such as p21WAF1/CIP1 and MDM2. In view of the significance of p21WAF1/CIP1 and MDM2 as wild-type (wt) p53 targets, this study was undertaken to monitor the varying expression of these proteins in non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHLs) in relation to p53 gene status. A total of 57 cases of different histological types of NHL were included in this study. Proteins p53, p21WAF1/CIP1, and MDM2 were analysed by immunohistochemical techniques, taking the levels expressed in reactive lymphoid tissues as reference points. p53 gene point mutations (exons 5-8) were looked for using the PCR-SSCP technique and direct sequencing. Fifteen of the 57 cases studied showed 16 mutations at the p53 gene: 12 missense, one nonsense, two silent mutations, and one frameshift deletion. Most missense mutations were associated with high levels of p53 protein, while the nonsense mutations and frameshift deletion did not induce detectable levels of p53. All cases with mutation at the p53 gene (15) showed null or low levels of p21WAF1/CIP1 and MDM2 proteins, suggesting that null or missense mutations at this gene give rise to a protein that is unable to transactivate the p21WAF1/CIP1 and MDM2 genes. The association between missense p53 mutation and dissociate immunophenotype (p53+, MDM2-, p21-) was statistically significant (Fisher's exact test, P = 0.0024). This anomalous p53+, MDM2-, p21- phenotype was also found in a small group of five cases with wt p53; this could indicate that in these cases p53 transactivation capacity has been abrogated by a mechanism other than p53 mutation. Most cases with the wt p53 gene show simultaneous immunohistochemical expression of all three proteins and often display higher levels than those found in reactive lymphoid tissue. There is a tendency for EBV-positive cases to harbour high levels of p53+ and p21+, suggesting that EBV could be involved in the nuclear accumulation of p53 and p21WAF1/CIP1 in NHL.

Original publication




Journal article


J Pathol

Publication Date





51 - 61


Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p21, Cyclins, Gene Expression, Genes, p53, Herpesvirus 4, Human, Humans, Immunoenzyme Techniques, Immunophenotyping, Lymphoma, Non-Hodgkin, Mutation, Neoplasm Proteins, Nuclear Proteins, Palatine Tonsil, Polymorphism, Single-Stranded Conformational, Proto-Oncogene Proteins, Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-mdm2, Tumor Suppressor Protein p53