Caenorhabditis elegans p53: Role in Apoptosis, Meiosis, and Stress Resistance

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We have identified a homolog of the mammalian p53 tumor suppressor protein in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans that is expressed ubiquitously in embryos. The gene encoding this protein,cep-1, promotes DNA damage–induced apoptosis and is required for normal meiotic chromosome segregation in the germ line. Moreover, although somatic apoptosis is unaffected, cep-1 mutants show hypersensitivity to hypoxia-induced lethality and decreased longevity in response to starvation-induced stress. Overexpression of CEP-1 promotes widespread caspase-independent cell death, demonstrating the critical importance of regulating p53 function at appropriate levels. These findings show that C. elegansp53 mediates multiple stress responses in the soma, and mediates apoptosis and meiotic chromosome segregation in the germ line.