p53 checkpoint-defective cells are sensitive to X rays, but not hypoxia.
Denko NC., Green SL., Edwards D., Giaccia AJ.
X-ray-induced damage leads to cell-cycle "checkpoint" arrest by p53-dependent induction of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21 (Waf1/Cip1/Sdi1). Human tumor cells that lack this response fail to arrest after exposure to DNA-damaging agents, undergo multiple rounds of endoreduplicative DNA synthesis, and eventually commit to an apoptotic cell death. Since low oxygen tension can also induce p53 protein accumulation, and can lead to cell-cycle arrest or apoptosis, we examined the expression of p21 in tumor cells under normoxic and hypoxic conditions. In a survey of cells, mRNA for the p21 gene was induced two- to threefold in response to hypoxia in a seemingly p53-independent manner. We therefore examined genetically matched cells that differ in their p21 and p53 status for response to ionizing radiation and hypoxia. We found that both p21-deficient and p53-deficient cells exhibit an increase in chromosome instability, an increased level of apoptosis, and a failure to arrest after exposure to ionizing radiation. However, cells that lack either p21 or p53 exhibit no increase in chromosome instability or elevated apoptosis and still arrest in response to hypoxia. Thus, the mechanism responsible for the differential response to either hypoxia or X rays presumably lies in the control of cell-cycle progression in response to stress and its dependence on p21. Since the loss of a DNA-damage-dependent checkpoint does not sensitize cells to killing by stresses that elicit a DNA-damage-independent checkpoint, targeting the function of p21 pharmacologically will not kill tumor cells in situ in the absence of a DNA damage signal.