The cell cycle inhibitor p21(CDKN1A) has been shown to participate in nucleotide excision repair by interacting with PCNA. Here we have investigated whether p21 plays a role in base excision repair (BER), by analyzing p21 interactions with BER factors, and by assessing the response of p21(-/-) human fibroblasts to DNA damage induced by alkylating agents. Absence of p21 protein resulted in a higher sensitivity to alkylation-induced DNA damage, as indicated by reduced clonogenic efficiency, defective DNA repair (assessed by the comet test), and by persistence of histone H2AX phosphorylation. To elucidate the mechanisms at the basis of the function of p21 in BER, we focused on its interaction with poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 (PARP-1), an important player in this repair process. p21 was found to bind the automodification/DNA binding domain of PARP-1, although some interaction occurred also with the catalytic domain after DNA damage. This association was necessary to regulate PARP-1 activity since poly(ADP-ribosylation) induced by DNA damage was higher in p21(-/-) human fibroblasts than in parental p21(+/+) cells, and in primary fibroblasts after p21 knock-down by RNA interference. Concomitantly, recruitment of PARP-1 and PCNA to damaged DNA was greater in p21(-/-) than in p21(+/+) fibroblasts. This accumulation resulted in persistent interaction of PARP-1 with BER factors, such as XRCC1 and DNA polymerase beta, suggesting that prolonged association reduced the DNA repair efficiency. These results indicate that p21 regulates the interaction between PARP-1 and BER factors, to promote efficient DNA repair.
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