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Mol Cell Biol. 1996 Mar;16(3):859-67.

Regulation of p16CDKN2 expression and its implications for cell immortalization and senescence.

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Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories, London, United Kingdom.


p16CDKN2 specifically binds to and inhibits the cyclin-dependent kinases CDK4 and CDK6, which function as regulators of cell cycle progression in G1 by contributing to the phosphorylation of the retinoblastoma protein (pRB). Human cell lines lacking functional pRB contain high levels of p16 RNA and protein, suggesting a negative feedback loop by which pRB might regulate p16 expression in late G1. By a combination of nuclear run-on assays and promoter analyses in human fibroblasts expressing a temperature-sensitive simian virus 40 T antigen, we show that p16 transcription is affected by the status of pRB and define a region in the p16 promoter that is required for this response. However, the effect is not sufficient to account for the differences in p16 RNA levels between pRB-positive and -negative cells. Moreover, p16 RNA is extremely stable, and the levels do not change appreciably during the cell cycle. Primary human fibroblasts express very low levels of p16, but the RNA and protein accumulate in late-passage, senescent cells. The apparent overexpression of p16 in pRB-negative cell lines is therefore caused by at least two factors: loss of repression by pRB and an increase in the number of population doublings.

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