The p73 protein, a homologue of the tumour-suppressor protein p53, can activate p53-responsive promoters and induce apoptosis in p53-deficient cells. Here we report that some tumour-derived p53 mutants can bind to and inactivate p73. The binding of such mutants is influenced by whether TP53 (encoding p53) codon 72, by virtue of a common polymorphism in the human population, encodes Arg or Pro. The ability of mutant p53 to bind p73, neutralize p73-induced apoptosis and transform cells in cooperation with EJ- Ras was enhanced when codon 72 encoded Arg. We found that the Arg-containing allele was preferentially mutated and retained in squamous cell tumours arising in Arg/Pro germline heterozygotes. Thus, inactivation of p53 family members may contribute to the biological properties of a subset of p53 mutants, and a polymorphic residue within p53 affects mutant behaviour.
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