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Oncogene. 1999 Nov 11;18(47):6540-5.

A p53 and apoptotic independent role for p21waf1 in tumour response to radiation therapy.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Stanford University School of Medicine, CA 94305-5468, USA.


Loss of p21 in human cancer cells results in checkpoint failure, induction of polyploidy and subsequent apoptosis following DNA damage. Tumours in immunodeficient mice derived from cells lacking p21 are also more sensitive to ionizing radiation than their wild-type counterparts. Abrogation of p53 in the p21+/+ parental cells results in an in vitro phenotype that is indistinguishable from that of the p21 knockout cells. Thus, the in vitro phenotype resulting from loss of p21 is consistent with its well-established role in the p53/p21 damage response pathway. However, despite the similar in vitro phenotype, p21+/+ cells with abrogated p53 show no evidence of the sensitivity observed in the p21-/- cells when grown as tumours in immunodeficient mice. The increased radio-sensitization stabilization of p21-/- tumours is also unrelated to the increase in apoptosis observed in these tumours following radiation treatment. Apoptosis in the p21-/- tumours was significantly reduced by expression of bcl-2 without any corresponding change in the overall response of the tumour. Similarly, abrogation of p53 in the p21+/+ tumours substantially increased radiation-induced apoptosis within the tumours without increasing their radiation sensitivity. Dissociation of these in vivo and in vitro phenotypes indicates that p21 participates in a novel in vivo specific damage response pathway that is distinct from its role in the p53 pathway, and therefore that it may be an effective therapeutic target for cancer therapy.

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