In the present study, we investigated the relation between p21 expression and the sensitivity of testicular germ cell tumor (TGCT) cells to apoptotic stimuli. Despite similar cisplatin-induced wild-type p53 accumulation, the TGCT cell lines Tera and Scha expressed low p21 protein and mRNA levels in comparison to A2780 ovarian cancer cells. Inhibition of the proteasome complex with MG-132 increased p21 protein levels in TGCT cells but much more in A2780 cells, whereas cisplatin had no additional effect on p21 protein levels. Inhibition of caspase-3 activity in TGCT cells with the broad-spectrum caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk had no effect on p21 levels and also not upon cisplatin treatment. A similar induction of p53 irradiation, in contrast to cisplatin, substantially increased both p21 mRNA and protein expression in Tera cells. Cisplatin-treated Tera cells expressing low p21 protein levels were Fas-sensitive, while irradiation-induced p21, which was mainly localized in the cytosol, rendered irradiated Tera cells resistant to Fas-induced apoptosis. Sensitivity of irradiated Tera cells to Fas-induced apoptosis was restored by short interfering RNA-specific suppression of p21 expression. These results strongly indicate that the low p21 protein levels are caused by reduced p21 gene transcription and sensitize cisplatin-treated TGCT cells to the Fas death pathway.
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