Gene targeting in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) has become the principal technology for generating knockout models. Although numerous studies have predicted that the disruption of p53 leads to increased developmental anomalies and malignancies, most p53 knockout mice develop normally. Therefore, the role of p53 in animal development was examined using rat knockout models. Conventionally generated homozygous KO males developed normally, whereas females rarely survived due to neural tube defects. Mutant chimeras generated via blastocyst injection with p53-null ESCs exhibited high rates of embryonic lethality in both sexes. This phenotype could be observed in one month by the use of zinc-finger nucleases. The p53-null ESCs were resistant to apoptosis and differentiation, and exhibited severe chromosome instabilities in the chimera-contributed cells, suggesting an essential role for p53 in maintaining ESC quality and genomic integrity. These results demonstrate that p53 functions as a guardian of embryogenesis in the rats.
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