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p53 Protocols: the Original Soundtrack of 25 Years of p53 Research. Methods in Molecular Biology. Vol. 234
  1. P Hainaut

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Edited by S Deb, S P Deb. Published by Humana Press, 2003, $99.50 (hardback), pp 280. ISBN 1 58829 106 5

This is 2004. Rock’n roll has reached 50, and p53, discovered in 1979 has just turned 25. Fitting time for this “Protocols around p53”, which sounds like one of these tribute CD compilations of the standards that have made the history of the field. With close to 20 000 papers indexed into PubMed quoting “p53” as a keyword, this protein is perhaps one of the biggest success stories of molecular oncology—one that has already fascinated two generation of laboratory scientists. And, in contrast to the Rolling Stones, p53 is still producing top of the chart hits every year.

This book on p53 protocols, edited by Sumitra Deb and Swati Palit Deb, covers an incredible range of practical information, useful to the informed p53 reader as well as to the newcomer to the field (and I have in mind, in particular, the young PhD students in my laboratory or elsewhere: they are going to love it). However, in my opinion, the best target audience is all those who, not being privy to developments in p53-ology, might feel left out and wish to do some catching up with practical matters. In this respect, from one chapter to the other, the book provides a clever outline of the state of the art in p53 research; in particular, through the short and informative introduction that opens each chapter. The book covers a wide range of topics, from basic p53 protein biochemistry (production, purification, protein–protein and protein–DNA interactions, immunodetection) to expression in cells (adenoviruses, transfection, degradation, cellular localisation), transactivation and transrepression, identification of target genes, effects on proliferation and apoptosis, and assessment of mutant p53 functions using p53 mutant mice. One of the most interesting aspects is that the book gives some insight on exciting, underestimated, and recent aspects of p53 biology, such as transrepression or mitochondrial localisation. The authors are all p53 experts who have contributed outstanding conceptual and technical papers in the field, including some of the most important p53 findings of the past 15 years.

Now, inevitably, there are some weak points. Not so much in the contents of the book but rather in what it lacks (exactly like a compilation CD: you buy it for Satisfaction and Bebop-a-lula but you complain because it does not feature that ’67 hit by The Zombies). For example, for many years there has been a heated debate on the use and relevance of anti-p53 antibodies. Some of them react with specific protein conformations. Others may recognise only some isoforms and others, still, bind to epitopes that contain post-translational modification sites. We are still looking for a good roadmap of p53 antibody usage. Another (relative) weakness is the lack of coverage of RNA interference as a tool to probe p53 functions. However, from my perspective, the most important problem lies in the poor coverage of issues related to mutation detection and analysis in human tumours. The book features an excellent, well documented paper on mutation detection by single strand conformation polymorphism and direct dideoxy sequencing. However, it does not discuss the many recent technical developments in other detection methods, such as denaturing high performance liquid chromatography, pyrosequencing, or mutation screening using different kinds of DNA arrays that are now commercially available, not to speak of yeast based functional assays.

In conclusion, this book is a goldmine for those who will take care to scrape the surface and get into the meat. It will provide readers with many keys to open up the difficult p53 literature. Moreover, it will provide scientists working on other, less fashionable proteins with several tools to turn their protégée into a Rock ‘n Roll star. This is the very least that p53 can offer as retribution to the community: after all, these p53 protocols have been developed from backbones borrowed from other proteins….