The tumor suppressor p53 (also known as TP53) plays a central role in cellular stress responses by regulating transcription of multiple target genes. The temporal dynamics of p53 are thought to be important for its function; these encode input information and are decoded to induce distinct cellular phenotypes. However, it remains unclear to what extent the temporal dynamics of p53 reflect the activity of p53-induced gene expression. In this study, we report a multiplexed reporter system that allows us to visualize the transcriptional activity of p53 at the single-cell level. Our reporter system features simple and sensitive observation of the transcriptional activity of endogenous p53 to the response elements of various target genes. Using this system, we show that the transcriptional activation of p53 exhibits strong cell-to-cell heterogeneity. The transcriptional activation of p53 after etoposide treatment is highly dependent on the cell cycle but this is not seen after UV exposure. Finally, we show that our reporter system allows simultaneous visualization of the transcriptional activity of p53 and cell cycle. Our reporter system can thus be a useful tool for studying biological processes involving the p53 signaling pathway.

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