Gatekeeper between quiescence and differentiation: p53 in axonal outgrowth and neurogenesis.
This study demonstrated the involvement of the tumor suppressor protein p53 in differentiation and programmed cell death of neurons and oligodendrocytes, two cell types that leave the mitotic cycle early in development and undergo massive-scale cell death as the nervous system matures. We found that primary cultures of rat oligodendrocytes and neurons, as well as of the neuronal PC12 pheochromocytoma cell line, constitutively express the p53 protein. At critical points in the maturation of these cells in vitro, the subcellular localization of p53 changes: during differentiation it appears mainly in the nucleus, whereas in mature differentiated cells it is present mainly in the cytoplasm. These subcellular changes were correlated with changes in levels of immunoprecipitated p53. Infection of cells with a recombinant retrovirus encoding a C-terminal p53 miniprotein (p53 DD), previously shown to act as a dominant negative inhibitor of endogenous wild-type p53 activity, inhibited the differentiation of oligodendrocytes and of PC12 cells and protected neurons from spontaneous apoptotic death. These findings suggest that p53, upon receiving appropriate signals, is recruited into the nucleus, where it plays a regulatory role in directing primary neurons', oligodendrocytes, and PC12 cells toward either differentiation or apoptosis in vitro.