Chromatin regulation is crucial for many biological processes such as transcriptional regulation, DNA replication, and DNA damage repair. We have found that it is also important for neural stem/progenitor cell (NSC) function and neurogenesis. Here, we demonstrate that expression of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21 is specifically up-regulated in Mrg15 deficient NSCs. Knockdown of p21 expression by p21 shRNA results in restoration of cell proliferation. This indicates that p21 is directly involved in the growth defects observed in Mrg15 deficient NSCs. Activated p53 accumulates in Mrg15 deficient NSCs and this most likely accounts for the up-regulation of p21 expression in the cells. We observed decreased p53 and p21 levels and a concomitant increase in the percentage of BrdU positive cells in Mrg15 null cultures following expression of p53 shRNA. DNA damage foci, as indicated by immunostaining for γH2AX and 53BP1, are detectable in a sub-population of Mrg15 deficient NSC cultures under normal growing conditions and the majority of p21-positive cells are also positive for 53BP1 foci. Furthermore, Mrg15 deficient NSCs exhibit severe defects in DNA damage response following ionizing radiation. Our observations highlight the importance of chromatin regulation and DNA damage response in NSC function and maintenance.
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