A patient with xeroderma pigmentosum group C was extensively examined for mutations in the p53 gene in normal skin exposed to varying degrees of sunlight and in excisional biopsies of basal cell cancer, squamous cell cancer, and squamous cell dysplasia. Seventy-three samples were analyzed by microdissection of small cell clusters, followed by PCR and direct DNA sequencing. In skin taken from areas that most likely had never been exposed to the sun, no mutations were found. However, in skin exposed to the sun, we observed a multitude of mutations in the p53 gene. UV light-induced mutations were found in all types of lesions, as well as in clusters of morphologically normal epidermal cells. Twenty-nine distinct mutations were found in exons 5–8, all missense or nonsense, of which 27 (93%) were UV-specific C → T or CC → TT transitions at dipyrimidine sites of the nontranscribed strand. Two types of normal skin areas containing p53 mutations were observed: areas that stain strongly with p53 antibody (p53 patches) and those that do not stain. Because no silent or intron mutations were found in these cell clusters, the alterations in the p53 gene of morphologically normal cells are likely to have resulted in a selective growth advantage. The poor correlation between mutations and morphological phenotypes demonstrates that p53 mutations alone do not determine the phenotypes observed.

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This work was supported by the Swedish Cancer Foundation.

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