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Br J Cancer. 1998 Feb; 77(4): 515–521.
PMCID: PMC2149915

Frequent and heterogeneous expression of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor WAF1/p21 protein and mRNA in urothelial carcinoma.


The inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases WAF1/p21 has been shown to mediate cell cycle arrest by p53 and other factors. We have studied its expression in urothelial carcinoma. Immunohistochemistry of paraffin-embedded tissues revealed no detectable p21 protein in normal mucosa, whereas 8 of 17 (47%) carcinomata in situ, 41 of 62 (66%) pTa, 14 of 30 (47%) pT1 and 5 of 15 (33%) muscle-invasive tumours stained positive, usually with a heterogeneous pattern. Expression of p21 was associated with low grade tumours. In contrast, the frequency of p53 accumulation increased with grade and stage as did the frequency of staining for the proliferation marker Ki67. The level of WAF1 mRNA was determined relative to beta-actin mRNA by quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in 15 freshly frozen invasive tumours. In eight samples obtained from normal bladder mucosa, the values ranged from 0.93 to 2.19 arbitrary units (AU) (mean 1.54+/-0.37 AU), but varied widely from non-detectable to 16.21 AU (mean 3.02+/-4.44 AU) in the tumour specimens. In accord with the immunohistochemical findings, WAF1 mRNA expression was elevated over the range found in normal mucosa in 5 of 15 advanced tumours. In addition, RNA analysis revealed a decrease in expression in six tumours. No mutations were observed in the WAF1/p21 gene in these tumours, but two were heterozygous for the codon 31 polymorphism. These data indicate that p21 is frequently expressed in superficial, well differentiated urothelial carcinomas, but less often in muscle-invasive urothelial carcinomas, irrespective of their p53 status. The expression of p21 and its prevalence in low-stage tumours may reflect residual growth-regulatory influences potentially impeding but not necessarily inhibiting tumour development.

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