Lifestyle-related disorders, such as the metabolic syndrome, have become a primary risk factor for the development of liver pathologies that can progress from hepatic steatosis, hepatic insulin resistance, steatohepatitis, fibrosis and cirrhosis, to the most severe condition of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). While the prevalence of liver pathologies is steadily increasing in modern societies, there are currently no approved drugs other than chemotherapeutic intervention in late stage HCC. Hence, there is a pressing need to identify and investigate causative molecular pathways that can yield new therapeutic avenues. The transcription factor p53 is well established as a tumor suppressor and has recently been described as a central metabolic player both in physiological and pathological settings. Given that liver is a dynamic tissue with direct exposition to ingested nutrients, hepatic p53, by integrating cellular stress response, metabolism and cell cycle regulation, has emerged as an important regulator of liver homeostasis and dysfunction. The underlying evidence is reviewed herein, with a focus on clinical data and animal studies that highlight a direct influence of p53 activity on different stages of liver diseases. Based on current literature showing that activation of p53 signaling can either attenuate or fuel liver disease, we herein discuss the hypothesis that, while hyper-activation or loss of function can cause disease, moderate induction of hepatic p53 within physiological margins could be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of liver pathologies. Hence, stimuli that lead to a moderate and temporary p53 activation could present new therapeutic approaches through several entry points in the cascade from hepatic steatosis to HCC.
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