We studied the transcriptional activity of p53 protein in 50 tissues of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) using a yeast functional assay. In this assay, red yeast colonies indicate that p53 protein cannot bind to its specific domain and has lost its transcriptional activity. We also clarified whether mutant p53 protein could inactivate wild-type p53 protein in a transdominant manner using a modified yeast assay. In addition, we examined whether immunohistochemically detectable p53 protein was functionally inactive. The incidence of p53 inactivation was significantly higher in tumors with capsular invasion. Out of 21 tumors diagnosed with p53 mutations, 11 exhibited >75% red colonies, and all contained missense mutations. In these tumors, p53 function was lost because there was supposedly no intact p53 gene on either allele. One missense mutant produced <60% red colonies, but it was also considered inactive as a p53 protein heterotetramer because of its transdominant activity. In 7 of the remaining 9 tumors, p53 was considered to be mutated on one allele and intact on the other. All of these 7 tumors contained nonsense or frameshift mutations and had no transdominant activity, which suggested that p53 function remained intact. Alternately, immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated that all of the tumors with missense mutations were positively immunostained, whereas those that contained nonsense or frameshift mutations were negatively stained. Consequently, positively immunostaining tumors mostly coincided with p53-inactive tumors. These yeast-based assays suggested that p53 function was retained in some mutant cases. Immunohistochemistry was helpful in screening functionally inactive p53 protein in HCCs.
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