Cooperative p16 and p21 action protects female astrocytes from transformation

Najla Kfoury, Tao Sun, Kwanha Yu, Nathan Rockwell, Kelsey L. Tinkum, Zongtai Qi, Nicole M. Warrington, Peter McDonald, Anuradha Roy, Scott J. Weir, Carrie A. Mohila, Benjamin Deneen, Joshua B. Rubin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Mechanisms underlying sex differences in cancer incidence are not defined but likely involve dimorphism (s) in tumor suppressor function at the cellular and organismal levels. As an example, sexual dimorphism in retinoblastoma protein (Rb) activity was shown to block transformation of female, but not male, murine astrocytes in which neurofibromin and p53 function was abrogated (GBM astrocytes). Correlated sex differences in gene expression in the murine GBM astrocytes were found to be highly concordant with sex differences in gene expression in male and female GBM patients, including in the expression of components of the Rb and p53 pathways. To define the basis of this phenomenon, we examined the functions of the cyclin dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitors, p16, p21 and p27 in murine GBM astrocytes under conditions that promote Rb-dependent growth arrest. We found that upon serum deprivation or etoposide-induced DNA damage, female, but not male GBM astrocytes, respond with increased p16 and p21 activity, and cell cycle arrest. In contrast, male GBM astrocytes continue to proliferate, accumulate chromosomal aberrations, exhibit enhanced clonogenic cell activity and in vivo tumorigenesis; all manifestations of broad sex differences in cell cycle regulation and DNA repair. Differences in tumorigenesis disappeared when female GBM astrocytes are also rendered null for p16 and p21. These data elucidate mechanisms underlying sex differences in cancer incidence and demonstrate sex-specific effects of cytotoxic and targeted therapeutics. This has critical implications for lab and clinical research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12
Number of pages1
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 20 2018


  • Cyclin dependent kinase inhibitors
  • DNA damage response
  • Glioblastoma
  • Glioma
  • Rb
  • Sex differences
  • p16
  • p21


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