Agents that cause DNA double strand breaks lead to p16INK4a enrichment and the premature senescence of normal fibroblasts

Oncogene. 1998 Mar 5;16(9):1113-23. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1201862.


The occurrence of DNA double strand breaks induces cell cycle arrest in mortal and immortal human cells. In normal, mortal fibroblasts this block to proliferation is permanent. It depends on the growth regulator p53 and a protein p53 induces, the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor, p21. We show here that following DNA damage in mortal fibroblasts, the induction of p21 and p53 is to a large degree shortlived. By 8 days after a brief exposure to DNA strand breaking agents, bleomycin or actinomycin D, p53 protein is at baseline levels, while the p53 transactivation level is only slightly above its baseline. By this time the concentration of p21 protein, which goes up as high as 100-fold shortly after treatment, is down to just 2-4-fold over baseline levels. Following the drop in p21 concentration a large increase in the expression level of the tumor suppressor gene p16INK4a is observed. This scenario, where a transient increase in p21 is followed by a delayed induction of p16INK4a, also happens with the permanent arrest that occurs with cellular senescence. In fact, these cells treated with agents that cause DNA double strand breaks share a number of additional markers with senescent cells. Our findings indicate that these cells are very similar to senescent cells and that they have additional factor(s) beside p21 and p53 that maintain cell cycle arrest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Cell Line
  • Cellular Senescence*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16 / biosynthesis*
  • DNA Damage*
  • Dactinomycin / toxicity*
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Male
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitor p16
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Dactinomycin