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J Biol Chem. 2011 Oct 21;286(42):36396-403. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.257071. Epub 2011 Aug 31.

Tumor suppressor and aging biomarker p16(INK4a) induces cellular senescence without the associated inflammatory secretory phenotype.

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Division of Life Sciences, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Cellular senescence suppresses cancer by preventing the proliferation of cells that experience potentially oncogenic stimuli. Senescent cells often express p16(INK4a), a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, tumor suppressor, and biomarker of aging, which renders the senescence growth arrest irreversible. Senescent cells also acquire a complex phenotype that includes the secretion of many cytokines, growth factors, and proteases, termed a senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). The SASP is proposed to underlie age-related pathologies, including, ironically, late life cancer. Here, we show that ectopic expression of p16(INK4a) and another cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, p21(CIP1/WAF1), induces senescence without a SASP, even though they induced other features of senescence, including a stable growth arrest. Additionally, human fibroblasts induced to senesce by ionizing radiation or oncogenic RAS developed a SASP regardless of whether they expressed p16(INK4a). Cells induced to senesce by ectopic p16(INK4a) expression lacked paracrine activity on epithelial cells, consistent with the absence of a functional SASP. Nonetheless, expression of p16(INK4a) by cells undergoing replicative senescence limited the accumulation of DNA damage and premature cytokine secretion, suggesting an indirect role for p16(INK4a) in suppressing the SASP. These findings suggest that p16(INK4a)-positive cells may not always harbor a SASP in vivo and, furthermore, that the SASP is not a consequence of p16(INK4a) activation or senescence per se, but rather is a damage response that is separable from the growth arrest.

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