Human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the fifth most common cancer and is associated with poor prognosis worldwide. The molecular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of HCC have been an area of continuing interest, and recent studies using next generation sequencing (NGS) have revealed much regarding previously unsettled issues. Molecular studies using HCC samples have been mainly targeted with the aim to identify the fundamental mechanisms contributing to HCC and identify more effective treatments. In response to cellular stresses (e.g., DNA damage or oncogenes), activated p53 elicits appropriate responses that aim at DNA repair, genetic stability, cell cycle arrest, and the deletion of DNA-damaged cells. On the other hand, the murine double minute 2 (MDM2) oncogene protein is an important cellular antagonist of p53. MDM2 negatively regulates p53 activity through the induction of p53 protein degradation. However, current research has shown that the mechanisms underlying MDM2-p53 interactions are more complex than previously thought. Microarray data have added new insight into the transcription changes in HCC. Recently, Nutlin-3 has shown potency against p53-MDM2 binding and the enhancement of p53 stabilization as well as an increment of p53 cellular accumulation with potential therapeutic effects. This review outlines the molecular mechanisms involved in the p53-MDM2 pathways, the biological factors influencing these pathways, and their roles in the pathogenesis of HCC. It also discusses the action of Nutlin-3 treatment in inducing growth arrest in HCC and elaborates on future directions in research in this area. More research on the biology of p53-MDM2 interactions may offer a better understanding of these mechanisms and discover new biomarkers, sensitive prognostic indicators as well as new therapeutic interventions in HCC.
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