p53 is activated by a variety of cellular stresses, including DNA damage, hypoxia, and mitogenic oncogenes, but the extent to which each signal engages p53 as a tumour suppressor remains unknown. In non-immortal cells, the adenovirus E1A oncogene activates p53 to promote apoptosis, whereas oncogenic ras activates p53 to promote cellular senescence. Inactivation of p53 prevents E1A-induced apoptosis or Ras-induced senescence, allowing proliferation to continue unabated. In each instance, the ability of the oncogene to activate p53 involves the same functions as are required for their transforming potential, implying that p53 activation acts as a fail-safe mechanism to counter hyperproliferative signals. Furthermore, p19(ARF) is strictly required for oncogene signalling to p53. The fact that ARF--itself a tumour suppressor--acts as an intermediary in this response argues that the tumour suppressor activity of p53 can arise from its ability to eliminate oncogene-expressing cells.
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