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Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol. 2001 Jun;24(6):703-10.

The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21 protects the lung from oxidative stress.

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Departments of Pediatrics (Neonatology), School of Medicine and Dentistry, The University of Rochester, Rochester, New York, USA.


The lung is a major target tissue for oxidative stress, including hyperoxia used to relieve tissue hypoxia. Unfortunately, severe hyperoxia damages DNA, inhibits proliferation, and kills cells, resulting in morbidity and mortality. Although hyperoxia induces the tumor suppressor p53 and its downstream target, the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21(Cip1/WAF1/Sdi1) (p21), their role in pulmonary injury remains unknown. Using p53- and p21-deficient mice we demonstrate that hyperoxia induces p21 in the absence of p53, suggesting that previous conclusions that p53 does not modify hyperoxic lung injury cannot be extrapolated to p21. In fact, mean survival of p21-deficient mice decreased by 40% and was associated with terminal deoxyribonucleotidyl transferase-mediated deoxyuridine triphosphate-biotin nick-end labeling staining of alveolar debris, indicative of DNA fragmentation and cell death. Ultrastructural analyses revealed that alveolar endothelial and type I epithelial cells died rapidly by necrosis. Although hyperoxia decreased DNA replication in p21-wild-type lungs, it had no effect on replication in p21-deficient lungs. Our findings suggest that p21 protects the lung from oxidative stress, in part, by inhibiting DNA replication and thereby allowing additional time to repair damaged DNA. Our findings have implications for patients suffering from the toxic effects of supplemental oxygen therapies.

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