Background: The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor gene p21Waf1/Cip1 plays a role in signaling cellular growth arrest. In response to DNA damage, p21 is induced by the p53 gene, thereby playing a direct role in mediating p53-induced G1 arrest. Alterations in this gene may adversely affect regulation of cellular proliferation and increase susceptibility for cancer. Two polymorphisms have previously been characterized in the p21 gene: a C-->A transversion at codon 31 (ser-->arg) and a C-->T transition 20 nucleotides downstream from the 3' end of exon 3.
Methods: The codon 31 polymorphism in exon 2 of the p21 gene was identified by restriction digestion (Alw26I) of products amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The polymorphism downstream from exon 3 of the p21 gene was identified by single strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis of PCR amplified products and was confirmed by PstI enzyme restriction digestion. DNA variant alleles were confirmed by direct DNA sequencing. The entire coding region and the promoter region (p53 binding domain) of the p21 gene were screened for mutations by SSCP analysis or DNA sequencing.
Results: The two polymorphisms were found in 18 of 96 tumor samples lacking p53 alterations (18.8%). Nine of 54 prostate adenocarcinoma samples (16.7%) contained both p21 variants, whereas 9 of 42 squamous cell carcinomas of the head and neck (21.4%) displayed both polymorphisms. Of the 110 controls examined, 10 (9.1%) had both alterations. Both p21 polymorphisms occurred together in all samples examined and there was no indication of mutation in the coding region of the p21 gene or in the p53 binding domain of the promoter region.
Conclusions: These data suggest that p21 gene variants may play a role in increased susceptibility for the development of some types of cancer. In the current study, the authors demonstrated that the occurrence of these two polymorphisms is increased in prostate adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck. The polymorphic sites may be directly responsible for this apparent increased susceptibility or they may be linked to regulatory region alterations.