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Mol Cancer Ther. 2002 Jun;1(8):639-49.

The role of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21 in apoptosis.

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Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 60607, USA.


Cancer develops when the balance between cell proliferation and cell death is disrupted, and the ensuing aberrant proliferation leads to tumor growth. The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21 is induced by both p53-dependent and -independent mechanisms following stress, and induction of p21 may cause cell cycle arrest. As a proliferation inhibitor, p21 is poised to play an important role in preventing tumor development. This notion is supported by data indicating that p21-null mice are more prone to spontaneous and induced tumorigenesis, and p21 synergizes with other tumor suppressors to protect against tumor progression in mice. However, a number of recent studies have pointed out that in addition to being an inhibitor of cell proliferation, p21 acts as an inhibitor of apoptosis in a number of systems, and this may counteract its tumor-suppressive functions as a growth inhibitor. In the current review, we discuss the role of p21 in regulating cell death and the potential relevance of its expression in cancer.

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