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Cell Biol Toxicol. 2002;18(4):243-57.

All-trans-retinoic acid-mediated modulation of p53 during neural differentiation in murine embryonic stem cells.

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  • 1Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, The University of Georgia, Athens 30602-7389, USA.


All-trans-retinoic acid (RA) plays an important physiological role in embryonic development and is teratogenic in large doses in almost all species. p53, a tumor suppressor gene encodes phosphoproteins, which regulate cellular proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. Temporal modulation of p53 by retinoic acid was investigated in murine embryonic stem cells during differentiation and apoptosis. Undifferentiated embryonic stem cells express a high level of p53 mRNA and protein followed by a decrease in p53 levels as differentiation proceeds. The addition of retinoic acid during 8-10 days of differentiation increased the levels of p53 mRNA and protein, accompanied by accelerated neural differentiation and apoptosis. Marked increase in apoptosis was observed at 10-20 h after retinoic acid treatment when compared with untreated controls. Retinoic acid-induced morphological differentiation resulted in predominantly neural-type cells. Maximum increase in p53 mRNA in retinoic acid-treated cells occurred on day 17, whereas maximum protein synthesis occurred on days 14-17, which coincided with increased neural differentiation and proliferation. Increased p53 levels did not induce p21 transactivation, interestingly a decrease in p21 was observed on day 17 on exposure to retinoic acid. The level of p53 declined by day 21 of differentiation. The results demonstrated that retinoic acid-mediated apoptosis preceded the changes in p53 expression, suggesting that p53 induction does not initiate retinoic acid-induced apoptosis during development. However, retinoic acid accelerated neural differentiation and increased the expression of p53 in proliferating neural cells, corroborated by decreased p21 levels, indicating the importance of cell type and stage specificity of p53 function.

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