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Mol Cell Biol. 1998 Nov;18(11):6457-73.

The human ARF cell cycle regulatory gene promoter is a CpG island which can be silenced by DNA methylation and down-regulated by wild-type p53.

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  • 1Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, The University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90033, USA.


The INK4a/ARF locus encodes two proteins involved in tumor suppression in a manner virtually unique in mammalian cells. Distinct first exons, driven from separate promoters, splice onto a common exon 2 and 3 but utilize different reading frames to produce two completely distinct proteins, both of which play roles in cell cycle control. INK4a, a critical element of the retinoblastoma gene pathway, binds to and inhibits the activities of CDK4 and CDK6, while ARF, a critical element of the p53 pathway, increases the level of functional p53 via interaction with MDM2. Here we clone and characterize the promoter of the human ARF gene and show that it is a CpG island characteristic of a housekeeping gene which contains numerous Sp1 sites. Both ARF and INK4a are coordinately expressed in cells except when their promoter regions become de novo methylated. In one of these situations, ARF transcription could be reactivated by treatment with the DNA methylation inhibitor 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine, and the reactivation kinetics of ARF and INK4a were found to differ slightly in a cell line in which both genes were silenced by methylation. The ARF promoter was also found to be highly responsive to E2F1 expression, in keeping with previous results at the RNA level. Lastly, transcription from the ARF promoter was down-regulated by wild-type p53 expression, and the magnitude of the effect correlated with the status of the endogenous p53 gene. This finding points to the existence of an autoregulatory feedback loop between p53, MDM2, and ARF, aimed at keeping p53 levels in check.

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