Cell Cycle Arrest and Apoptosis Are Not Dependent on p53 Prior to p53-dependent Embryonic Stem Cell Differentiation

Previous efforts to determine whether or not the transcription factor and tumor suppressor protein p53 is required for DNA damage-induced apoptosis in pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs) produced contradictory conclusions. To resolve this issue, p53+/+ and p53-/- ESCs derived by two different methods were used to quantify time-dependent changes in nuclear DNA content; annexin-V binding; cell permeabilization; and protein expression, modification, and localization. The results revealed that doxorubicin (Adriamycin [ADR]) concentrations 10 to 40 times less than commonly used in previous studies induced the DNA damage-dependent G2-checkpoint and completed apoptosis within the same time frame, regardless of the presence or absence of p53, p21, and PUMA. Increased ADR concentrations delayed initiation of apoptosis in p53-/- ESCs, but the rates of apoptosis remained equivalent. Similar results were obtained by inducing apoptosis with either staurosporine inhibition of kinase activities or WX8 disruption of lysosome homeostasis. Differentiation of ESCs by LIF deprivation revealed p53-dependent formation of haploid cells, increased genomic stability, and suppression of the G2-checkpoint. Minimal induction of DNA damage now resulted in p53-facilitated apoptosis, but regulation of pluripotent gene expression remained p53-independent. Primary embryonic fibroblasts underwent p53-dependent total cell cycle arrest (a prelude to cell senescence), and p53-independent apoptosis occurred in the presence of 10-fold higher levels of ADR, consistent with previous studies. Taken together, these results reveal that the multiple roles of p53 in cell cycle regulation and apoptosis are first acquired during pluripotent stem cell differentiation.

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