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Understanding p53 functions through p53 antibodies
Kanaga Sabapathy 1,2,3,4,* and David P. Lane 5,*
1 Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis, Division of Cellular & Molecular Research, Humphrey Oei Institute of Cancer Research, National Cancer Centre Singapore, 11 Hospital Drive, Singapore 169610, Singapore
2 Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Program, Duke–NUS Medical School, 8 College Road, Singapore 169857, Singapore
3 Department of Biochemistry, National University of Singapore (NUS), 8 Medical Drive, Singapore 117597, Singapore
4 Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology, 61 Biopolis Drive, Singapore 138673, Singapore
5 p53 Laboratory (p53Lab), Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), Singapore 138648, Singapore
*Correspondence to:Kanaga Sabapathy, E-mail:; David P. Lane, E-mail:
J Mol Cell Biol, Volume 11, Issue 4, April 2019, Pages 317-329
Keyword: antibodies, conformation, mutant, p53, post-translational modifications

TP53 is the most frequently mutated gene across all cancer types. Our understanding of its functions has evolved since its discovery four decades ago. Initially thought to be an oncogene, it was later realized to be a critical tumour suppressor. A significant amount of our knowledge about p53 functions have come from the use of antibodies against its various forms. The early anti-p53 antibodies contributed to the recognition of p53 accumulation as a common feature of cancer cells and to our understanding of p53 DNA-binding and transcription activities. They led to the concept that conformational changes can facilitate p53’s activity as a growth inhibitory protein. The ensuing p53 conformational-specific antibodies further underlined p53’s conformational flexibility, collectively forming the basis for current efforts to generate therapeutic molecules capable of altering the conformation of mutant p53. A subsequent barrage of antibodies against post-translational modifications on p53 has clarified p53’s roles further, especially with respect to the mechanistic details and context-dependence of its activity. More recently, the generation of p53 mutation-specific antibodies have highlighted the possibility to go beyond the general framework of our comprehension of mutant p53—and promises to provide insights into the specific properties of individual p53 mutants. This review summarizes our current knowledge of p53 functions derived through the major classes of anti-p53 antibodies, which could be a paradigm for understanding other molecular events in health and disease.