The p53 tumor suppressor gene has been strongly implicated in the process of carcinogenesis. One of the initial cellular responses observed following exposure to DNA-damaging agents is an up-regulation of p53 protein. In preliminary studies from our laboratory, we have demonstrated that there is differential usage of p53 transcriptional start sites in normal human tissues as compared to that observed in human tumor specimens and most cell lines. p53 transcripts initiated at the P1 transcription start site are the major p53 species observed in tumor specimens and cell lines. In contrast, the majority of human p53 gene transcription in normal tissue is initiated from sites upstream of the P1 start site, with a full length P0- initiated p53 transcript detected at levels that reach approximately 50 percent of total p53 mRNA. In addition, we have demonstrated that p53 5' UTR sequences upstream of the P1 start site (between P0 and P1) present only in P0/P2-initiated p53 mRNA significantly decrease mRNA translational efficiency in a cis- regulated manner. This decrease is not observed for mRNAs containing only P1-specific p53 5' UTR sequences. This phenomenon may be an important mechanism for controlling the expression of p53 and may be an important biomarker for cellular transformation and tumorigenesis. The goal of this proposal will be to examine the mechanisms underlying the translational regulation manifested by p53 5' UTR sequences as well as the mechanisms involved in the switching of transcriptional start sites in normal versus tumor cells. Outlined in this proposal are studies designed to elucidate the exact sequences necessary for the manifestation of P0-induced translational regulation and determine whether these sequences reside in P0- versus P2-initiated mRNA. We will elucidate potential inhibitory elements present within the p53 5' UTR such as stem-loop structures or upstream UG (uAUG) condons and upstream open reading frames (uORFs), and whether potential P0- specific RNA-binding proteins play a role in this inhibition. Also proposed are studies examining the p53 flanking promoter sequences necessary for P0/P2-transcription. We will establish an in vitro system where the switch from P0/P2- to P1-initiated p53 transcripts can be modulated. This will enable us to better elucidate differences in the transcription factors and/or transcriptional machinery involved in P0/P2- versus P1-initiated p53 gene transcription and to better evaluate the conditions necessary for P0/P2-P1 transcriptional switching in vitro. Finally, we will examine this process in multiple human tissues including normal tissues from tobacco smoke-exposed versus unexposed individuals, tumor specimens as well as premalignant lesions. These studies will provide us with a better understanding of the importance of this mechanism in the carcinogenic process and help us evaluate the potential of this phenomenon as a biomarker for tumor initiation and progression.
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