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Oncogene. 1998 Aug 6;17(5):595-602.

Involvement of the Ink4 proteins p16 and p15 in T-lymphocyte senescence.

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Department of Oncology and Pathology, Karolinska Hospital and Institute, Stockholm, Sweden.


Little is known about the molecular background to senescence in T-lymphocytes. In fibroblast systems replicative senescence has been shown to correlate with a number of changes in the expression of the proteins normally regulating progression through the G1 phase of the cell cycle, and recently the Ink4 inhibitor p16 was implicated as a central regulator of replicative senescence in human fibroblasts. It has, however, been claimed that p16 is not expressed in T-lymphocytes. In the present study we have analysed G1 regulating proteins in ageing human T-lymphocytes. We show that PHA and IL-2 stimulated T-lymphocytes cease to proliferate after around 20 population doublings, these cells can not thereafter be restimulated to growth, and were also found to exhibit markers for senescence. We found that T-lymphocytes accumulate p16 and p15 protein during successive population doublings and display high levels of these proteins as they enter into replicative senescence. There was also an increased binding of p16 to the Cdk6 kinase in senescent cells, and a decreased Cdk6 as well as Cdk2 kinase activity. The levels of other G1 regulating proteins were also altered in the senescent cells, such as slightly elevated levels of p21/WAF1, and downregulation of Cdk2 and cyclinD3. The levels of p27/ Kip1 is down regulated in proliferating cells but rise to approximately 15% of the levels in un-stimulated quiescent cells. As a high proportion of T-cell childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemias have deletions of both p15 and p16, our data suggest that inactivation of these genes makes it possible for leukemic cells to avoid senescence.

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