Background: The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 3 (CDKN3) has been perceived as a tumour suppressor. Paradoxically, CDKN3 is often overexpressed in human cancer. It was unclear if CDKN3 overexpression is linked to alternative splicing variants or mutations that produce dominant-negative CDKN3.
Methods: We analysed CDKN3 expression and its association with patient survival in three cohorts of lung adenocarcinoma. We also examined CDKN3 mutations in the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) and the Moffitt Cancer Center's Total Cancer Care (TCC) projects. CDKN3 transcripts were further analysed in a panel of cell lines and lung adenocarcinoma tissues. CDKN3 mRNA and protein levels in different cell cycle phases were examined.
Results: CDKN3 is overexpressed in non small cell lung cancer. High CDKN3 expression is associated with poor overall survival in lung adenocarcinoma. Two CDKN3 transcripts were detected in all samples. These CDKN3 transcripts represent the full length CDKN3 mRNA and a normal transcript lacking exon 2, which encodes an out of frame 23-amino acid peptide with little homology to CDKN3. CDKN3 mutations were found to be very rare. CDKN3 mRNA and protein were elevated during the mitosis phase of cell cycle.
Conclusions: CDKN3 overexpression is prognostic of poor overall survival in lung adenocarcinoma. CDKN3 overexpression in lung adenocarcinoma is not attributed to alternative splicing or mutation but is likely due to increased mitotic activity, arguing against CDKN3 as a tumour suppressor.