Proliferation of human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC) is limited to a few passages in culture due to an arrest in G1 termed selection or mortality stage 0, M0. A small number of cells spontaneously escape M0, continue to proliferate in culture, and then enter a second mortality stage, M1, at which they senesce. Evidence that M0 involves the Rb pathway comes from the observation that expression of human papillomavirus type 16 E7 alleviates the M0 proliferation block, and we further show that the Rb-binding region of E7 is required to allow cells to bypass M0. In contrast, E6 does not prevent HMEC from entering M0 but, rather, is involved in M1 bypass. Here we show that inactivation of the D-type cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p16INK4A is associated with escape from the M0 proliferation block. Early-passage HMEC express readily detectable amounts of p16 protein, whereas normal or E6-expressing HMEC that escaped M0 expressed markedly reduced amounts of p16 mRNA and protein. This initial reduction of p16 expression was associated with limited methylation of the p16 promoter region CpG island. At later passages, a further reduction in p16 expression occurred, accompanied by increased CpG island methylation. In contrast, reduction of p16 expression did not occur in E7-expressing HMEC that bypassed M0, due to inactivation of Rb. These observations in the E6-expressing HMEC correlate well with the finding that CpG island methylation is a mechanism of p16 inactivation in the development of human tumors, including breast cancer.
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View details for PubMedID 9528751