p21WAF1/Cip1 acts as a key negative regulator of cell cycle progression, which can form complexes with cyclin-dependent kinases together with specific cyclins to induce cell cycle arrest at specific stages. p21 protein levels have been shown to be regulated primarily through phosphorylation and ubiquitination during various stages of the cell cycle. Although phosphorylation and ubiquitin-dependent proteasomal degradation of p21 have been well established, other post-translational modifications that contribute to regulation of p21 stability and function remain to be further elucidated. Here, we show that p21 degradation and its function are controlled by tankyrases, which are members of the poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) protein family. p21 interacts with tankyrases via newly defined tankyrase-binding motifs and is PARylated by tankyrases in vitro and in vivo, suggesting that PARylation is a new post-translational modification of p21. Up-regulation of tankyrases induces ubiquitin-dependent proteasomal degradation of p21 through an E3 ligase RNF146, thus promoting cell cycle progression in the G1/S phase transition. On the contrary, inhibition of tankyrases by knockdown or inhibitor treatment stabilizes p21 protein and leads to cell cycle arrest in the G1 phase. Together, our data demonstrate that tankyrase may function as a new molecular regulator that controls the protein levels of p21 through PARylation-dependent proteasomal degradation. Hence, a novel function of the tankyrase-p21 axis may represent a new avenue for regulating cell cycle progression.

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