AIMS: To determine the expression of p21WAF1/CIP1 in relation to the expression of Ki67 and p53 in various normal adult and fetal tissues, and to investigate its distribution throughout the cell cycle. METHODS: The expression of p21WAF1/CIP1 in relation to Ki67 and p53 was analysed in adult and fetal tissues using immunohistochemical techniques. Heat induced epitope retrieval techniques were used to characterise the presence of p21WAF1/CIP1 in different tissues, as well as to detect its distribution throughout the cell cycle. In addition, flow cytometry and western blotting were used to test whether the level of p21WAF1/CIP1 expression varied at different phases of the cell cycle in phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) stimulated lymphocytes. RESULTS: p21WAF1/CIP1 expression varied from one tissue to another, and it was restricted mainly to the squamous and glandular epithelium, where it appeared in association with p53. Human tissues in which p21WAF1/CIP1 was found showed a mutually exclusive topographical sequential expression between p21WAF1/CIP1 and Ki67. This was confirmed by double labelling studies, which showed that p21WAF1/CIP1 positive cells were in the G0 phase. Unlike these findings of a decline in p21WAF1/CIP1 expression after the G0 phase, PHA stimulated lymphocytes showed a level of p21WAF1/CIP1 expression that rose as the cell progressed through the cell cycle. CONCLUSIONS: The analysis of p21WAF1/CIP1 expression in relation to the status of p53 should take into account the existence of variable p21WAF1/CIP1 expression in different tissues. This could provide an explanation for the varying frequency of p53 mutations in tumours of different cellular origin. In tissues characterised by regular p21WAF1/CIP1 expression, it appears in a pattern that is consistent with the proposed role of this inhibitor of cyclin dependent kinases in cell cycle arrest-that of inducing cell differentiation. The conflicting results of in vivo and in vitro studies could support the hypothesis that microenvironmental conditions may influence the location of p21WAF1/CIP1 in different phases of the cell cycle.
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