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Cell Cycle. 2011 Feb 1;10(3):457-68. Epub 2011 Feb 1.

Senescence-associated heterochromatin foci are dispensable for cellular senescence, occur in a cell type- and insult-dependent manner and follow expression of p16(ink4a).

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Department of Genome Integrity, Institute of Molecular Genetics v.v.i, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague, Czech Republic.


Cellular senescence, an irreversible proliferation arrest evoked by stresses such as oncogene activation, telomere dysfunction, or diverse genotoxic insults, has been implicated in tumor suppression and aging. Primary human fibroblasts undergoing oncogene-induced or replicative senescence are known to form senescence-associated heterochromatin foci (SAHF), nuclear DNA domains stained densely by DAPI and enriched for histone modifications including lysine9-trimethylated histone H3. While cellular senescence occurs also in premalignant human lesions, it is unclear how universal is SAHF formation among various cell types, under diverse stresses, and whether SAHF occur in vivo. Here, we report that human primary fibroblasts (BJ and MRC-5) and primary keratinocytes undergoing replicative senescence, or premature senescence induced by oncogenic H-Ras, diverse chemotherapeutics and bacterial cytolethal distending toxin, show differential capacity to form SAHF. Whereas all tested cell types formed SAHF in response to activated H-Ras, only MRC-5, but not BJ fibroblasts or keratinocytes, formed SAHF under senescence induced by etoposide, doxorubicin, hydroxyurea, bacterial intoxication or telomere attrition. In addition, DAPI-defined SAHF were detected on paraffin sections of Ras-transformed cultured fibroblasts, but not human lesions at various stages of tumorigenesis. Overall, our results indicate that unlike the widely present DNA damage response marker γH2AX, SAHF is not a common feature of cellular senescence. Whereas SAHF formation is shared by diverse cultured cell types under oncogenic stress, SAHF are cell-type-restricted under genotoxin-induced and replicative senescence. Furthermore, while the DNA/DAPI-defined SAHF formation in cultured cells parallels enhanced expression of p16(ink4a) , such 'prototypic' SAHF are not observed in tissues, including premalignant lesions, irrespective of enhanced p16(ink4a) and other features of cellular senescence.

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