GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program


Medicine; Cancer Biology

First Thesis Advisor

Dr. Steven R. Grossman


Tumor Suppressor Protein p53, p300-CBP Transcription Factors


For 30 years, the tumor suppressor p53 has been a subject of intense research in nearly every discipline of scientific inquiry. While numerous surprising roles for p53 in health and disease are uncovered each year, the central role of its activation in preventing neoplastic transformation has been and will remain at the forefront of p53 research as investigators work to address an unexpectedly complex question—precisely how does p53 integrate upstream stress signals to coordinate activation of its target genes in response to stress?

One manner in which to address this question is at the level of transcription initiation—after upstream signals converge on p53 and produce a number of pools of post-transcriptionally modified p53, how exactly are specific target promoters activated in such a sensitive, context-specific manner? The work presented herein aims to address the role of histone acetylation at the p21 promoter—a critical mediator of G1/S arrest—by the P/CAF acetyltransferase in response to a variety of p53-activating stresses. We show that depletion of P/CAF strongly inhibits p21 expression in response to a variety of stresses, despite normal stabilization of p53 and recruitment to target promoters. This defect in p21 expression correlates closely with abrogation of stress-induced cell-cycle arrest. Strikingly, a p53 allele lacking putative P/CAF acetylation sites was still able to direct p21 expression, which was still dependent upon P/CAF. We show further that histone acetylation at H3K14 at the p21 promoter following stress is dependent upon P/CAF. Rescue of p21 expression with wild-type P/CAF or a ∆HAT point mutant indicates that P/CAF requires an intact HAT domain, suggesting that histone acetylation at H3K14 is catalyzed by P/CAF HAT activity, not the molecular bridging of a heterologous HAT by P/CAF. Furthermore, RNA polymerase II (RNAP II) was present at the p21 proximal promoter under all basal and stress conditions, but elongation of RNAP II after stress required the presence of P/CAF. These data indicate that H3K14 acetylation by P/CAF closely correlates with the activation status of the p21 promoter, and may be necessary for activation of a larger subset of p53-responsive promoters.

In addition to its critical role in p21 expression, we noted that p53 stabilization and cell-cycle arrest in response to p14ARF, but not other p53-stabilizing stresses, were also dependent on P/CAF. Cell-cycle arrest induced by p16INK4A was intact after P/CAF ablation, indicating a role for P/CAF in cell-cycle arrest specific to p14ARF-p53 signaling. Basal MDM2 levels were unaffected by P/CAF knockdown, as were p53- MDM2 and ARF-MDM2 complexes. A preliminary analysis of MDM2 localization was inconclusive, due to vastly different quantities of MDM2 in different conditions making analysis of subcellular localization difficult; however, the role of P/CAF in the relocalization of MDM2 to the nucleolus by p14ARF could potentially explain the defect in p53 stabilization, and should be explored further.

These observations, underscored by recent reports that P/CAF undergoes loss of heterozygosity in several tumor types, suggest that P/CAF plays a critical role in p53-mediated cell-cycle arrest through multiple, independent mechanisms. Further study should clarify whether P/CAF is lost in tumors maintaining wild-type p53, and whether its reintroduction into these tumors confers any potential therapeutic benefit.



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