p21WAF1 inhibits cyclin–cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk) complexes, causing cell cycle arrest. p21WAF1 contains p53-binding sites in its promoter and expression of p21WAF1 is induced by functional p53. In the present work, we have studied the role of protein kinase C (PKC) in the induction of p21WAF1 and show that induction of p21WAF1 expression can occur by activation of PKC in cells having no p53. Human ovarian carcinoma cells, SKOV-3, lack p53 protein and PMA, a potent activator of PKC, did not induce p53. PMA increased the expression of p21WAF1 mRNA both in these cells and in other cells which do not contain p53 (THP-1 and U937). Treatment of human embryonic fibroblasts, WI38, with PMA also induced the accumulation of p21WAF1 without affecting p53 levels. However, PMA did not increase levels of p21WAF1 mRNA in cells where either the PKC or the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway was blocked. Furthermore, treatment of cells with various phorbol ester derivatives which activate PKC resulted in the induction of p21WAF1 in SKOV-3 cells. In contrast, phorbol esters which do not activate PKC failed to induce p21WAF1 expression. PMA increased the transcriptional rate of p21WAF1 and activated the transcription of a luciferase reporter gene, controlled by the p21 promoter, in SKOV-3 cells with or without a p53 consensus-binding sequence. By contrast, PMA markedly stabilized p21WAF1 mRNA; the half-life (t1/2) of p21WAF1 in PMA-treated cells was > 8 h compared with < 1 h in untreated cells. These findings provide evidence that the PKC pathway induces expression of p21WAF1 independently of p53. Our present study also suggests that the accumulation of p21WAF1 transcripts by PMA occurs mainly at post-transcriptional level.

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