Cancer is one of the most life-threatening diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of malignant cells. The tumor suppressor p53 is the master regulator of tumor cell growth and proliferation. In response to various stress signals, p53 can be activated and transcriptionally induces a myriad of target genes, including both protein-encoding and non-coding genes, controlling cell cycle progression, DNA repair, senescence, apoptosis, autophagy and metabolism of tumor cells. However, around 50% of human cancers harbor mutant p53 and, in the majority of the remaining cancers, p53 is inactivated through multiple mechanisms. Herein, we review the recent progress in understanding the molecular basis of p53 signaling, particularly the newly identified ribosomal stress—p53 pathway, and the development of chemotherapeutics via activating wild-type p53 or restoring mutant p53 functions in cancer. A full understanding of p53 regulation will aid the development of effective cancer treatments.
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