Convergent evolution of a genotoxic stress response in a parasite-specific p53 homolog

George R. Wendt, Divya A. Shiroor, Carolyn E. Adler, James J. Collins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


P53 is a widely studied tumor suppressor that plays important roles in cell-cycle regulation, cell death, and DNA damage repair. P53 is found throughout metazoans, even in invertebrates that do not develop malignancies. The prevailing theory for why these invertebrates possess a tumor suppressor is that P53 originally evolved to protect the germline of early metazoans from genotoxic stress such as ultraviolet radiation. This theory is largely based upon functional data from only three invertebrates, omitting important groups of animals including flatworms. Previous studies in the freshwater planarian flatworm Schmidtea mediterranea suggested that flatworm P53 plays an important role in stem cell maintenance and skin production, but these studies did not directly test for any tumor suppressor functions. To better understand the function of P53 homologs across diverse flatworms, we examined the function of two different P53 homologs in the parasitic flatworm Schistosoma mansoni. The first P53 homolog (p53-1) is orthologous to S. mediterranea P53(Smed-p53) and human TP53 and regulates flatworm stem cell maintenance and skin production. The second P53 homolog (p53-2) is a parasite-specific paralog that is conserved across parasitic flatworms and is required for the normal response to genotoxic stress in S. mansoni. We then found that Smed-p53 does not seem to play any role in the planarian response to genotoxic stress. The existence of this parasite-specific paralog that bears a tumor suppressor-like function in parasitic flatworms implies that the ability to respond to genotoxic stress in parasitic flatworms may have arisen from convergent evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2205201119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number37
StatePublished - Sep 13 2022


  • flatworms
  • p53
  • parasitology
  • schistosomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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