Blood Journal
Leading the way in experimental and clinical research in hematology

A novel apoptosis pathway activated by the carboxyl terminus of p21

  1. Chen Dong,
  2. Qing Li,
  3. Shu-chen Lyu,
  4. Alan M. Krensky, and
  5. Carol Clayberger
  1. From the Division of Immunology and Transplantation Biology, Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.


Delivery of biologically active peptides into cells may help elucidate intracellular signal transduction pathways, identify additional in vivo functions, and develop new therapeutics. Although p21 was first identified as a major regulator of cell cycle progression, it is now clear that p21 subserves multiple functions. The amino terminus of p21 interacts with cyclins and cyclin-dependent kinases, while the carboxyl terminus interacts with proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA), growth arrest and DNA damage–inducible gene 45 (GADD45), calmodulin, SET, and CCAAT/enhancer binding protein-α (C/EBP-α). A chimeric peptide, p21-IRS, consisting of the carboxyl terminal domain of p21 conjugated to a pentapeptide (RYIRS) rapidly enters lymphoid cells and activates apoptosis. In the present study, we investigate the molecular events involved in p21-activated apoptosis. Comparison of p21-IRS with other known proapoptotic agents demonstrates that p21-IRS activates a novel apoptotic pathway: mitochondria are central to the process, but caspases and a decrease in Δψm are not involved. Targeting the p21 peptide to specific cell populations may allow development of novel therapies to eliminate aberrant cells in human diseases.

  • Submitted June 10, 2004.
  • Accepted September 24, 2004.
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