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Oncogene. 1997 Jun 12;14(23):2759-66.

Apoptosis in small intestinal epithelial from p53-null mice: evidence for a delayed, p53-independent G2/M-associated cell death after gamma-irradiation.

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Cancer Research Campaign Department of Epithelial Biology, Christie Hospital Trust, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Manchester, UK.


The death of small intestinal epithelial cells has been characterized and quantitated after irradiation of mice rendered homozygously null for the p53 gene. In wild-type animals homozygous for p53 a rapid (4.5 h) elevation of p53 protein was observed in the proliferative compartment of the crypts after 8 Gy of irradiation. Cells underwent cell death by apoptosis in this region. We had reported previously a total repression of apoptosis in small intestinal crypt epithelia 4.5 h after the gamma-irradiation (8 Gy) of p53 homozygously null animals. Thus, while 400 apoptotic cells were observed in 200 half crypts taken from wild-type animals at 4.5 h, this fell to background levels (10-30) in the p53 null animals (Merritt et al., 1994) and did not increase by 12 h. However, we have now found a delayed initiation of a p53-independent apoptosis after 8 Gy of gamma-radiation: at 24 h, approximately 100 apoptotic cells were observed in 200 half crypts. This late wave of apoptosis was not observed after 1 Gy of gamma-radiation. The morphological appearance of this p53-independent apoptosis suggested that death may have arisen as the result of aberrant mitosis. Analysis of the regeneration of crypts 3 days after irradiation of mice with between 11 and 17 Gy showed that there was no significant increase (P=0.135) in the potential of clonogenic cells from the p53 null animals to repopulate the crypts. The data support the idea that a p53-independent apoptotic mechanism permits the engagement of apoptosis, probably by a mitotic catastrophe, after 8 Gy of gamma-irradiation in vivo and that a loss of p53 does not make these epithelial cells radioresistant in vivo to doses of 8 Gy and above. In contrast, irradiation with 1 Gy failed to induce a p53-independent apoptosis in vivo, suggesting that the p53 'sensor' of damage was more sensitive than that engaging the p53-independent mechanism of cell death.

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