In the adult brain, continual neurogenesis of olfactory neurons is sustained by the existence of neural stem cells (NSCs) in the subependymal niche. Elimination of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 1A (p21) leads to premature exhaustion of the subependymal NSC pool, suggesting a relationship between cell cycle control and long-term self-renewal, but the molecular mechanisms underlying NSC maintenance by p21 remain unexplored. Here we identify a function of p21 in the direct regulation of the expression of pluripotency factor Sox2, a key regulator of the specification and maintenance of neural progenitors. We observe that p21 directly binds a Sox2 enhancer and negatively regulates Sox2 expression in NSCs. Augmented levels of Sox2 in p21 null cells induce replicative stress and a DNA damage response that leads to cell growth arrest mediated by increased levels of p19(Arf) and p53. Our results show a regulation of NSC expansion driven by a p21/Sox2/p53 axis.
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