Over 10 years ago, cdk6 was identified as a new member in a family of vertebrate cdc-2 related kinases. This novel kinase was found to partner with the D-type cyclins and to possess pRb kinase activity in vitro and has since been understood to function solely as a pRb kinase in the regulation of the G(1) phase of the cell cycle. In the past 2 years, several independent studies in multiple cell types have indicated a novel role for cdk6 in differentiation. For example, cdk6 expression must be reduced to allow proper osteoblast and osteoclast differentiation, forced cdk6 expression blocked differentiation of mouse erythroid leukemia cells and cdk6 expression in primary astrocytes favors the expression of progenitor cell markers. Since exit from the cell cycle is a necessary step in terminal differentiation, down-regulation of a mitogenic factor may be expected in this process, however it is surprising that this association has not been previously uncovered and that it is apparently not shared with cdk4, long understood to be a functional homolog of cdk6. The mechanism of cdk6 function in differentiation is not understood, but it may extend beyond the established role of cdk6 as a pRb kinase. As this story unfolds it will be important to discover if the function of cdk6 in differentiation is pRb-dependent or pRb-independent, since pRb has long been established as a key factor in initiating and maintaining cell cycle exit during differentiation.
(c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.