The growth arrest mediated by p53 is caused at least in part by the p53 mediated expression of p21 (p21waf1/Cip1). Since only one-third of primary Burkitt's lymphomas (BL) demonstrate mutations in the p53 gene, we examined the structural integrity of the p21 coding region by single-strand conformational polymorphism and DNA sequence analysis to determine the extent to which this gene is mutated in BL. Of 34 BLs analyzed, a frequent change (38%) at codon 31 that replaced Ser with Arg was found in 13 samples, 10 of which were from Africa. This change at codon 31 is also detected in peripheral blood DNA from normal subjects and may thus represent a polymorphism. One BL cell line, DH978, carried a change at codon 63: Phe to Leu. This mutation was heterozygous, and both the wild-type and the mutated p21 mRNA were expressed in the tumor cell line. By transfection experiments, the mutant p21 was less efficient in suppressing clonogenicity than wild-type p21. To our knowledge, this is the only mutation described in p21. The availability of this mutant p21 should further help in functional studies of p21.

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