To investigate the effect of p53 tumor suppressor gene loss in the mouse skin model of multistage carcinogenesis, p53 knockout mice, generated by gene targeting (p53 -/-), were mated to transgenic mice expressing v-rasHa (HK1.ras), v-fos (HK1.fos), or human transforming growth factor α (HK1.TGFα) exclusively in the epidermis, by means of a keratin K1-based targeting vector (HK1). HK1-p53 transgenic progeny expressing wild-type p53 alleles (p53+/+) or hemizygous for the p53 knockout allele (p53+/-) were identical to parental HK1 lines and exhibited neonatal epidermal hyperplasia or wound-associated hyperplasia in adults, together with spontaneous or 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA)-induced benign papillomas. Mating to p53-/- did not lead to the expected tumorigenesis in adults. Instead, whereas HK1.ras or HK1.TGFα transgenic mice null for p53 (HK1.ras-p53-/- and HK1.TGFα-p53-/-, respectively) retained the neonatal epidermal hyperplasia phenotype, in adults, spontaneous and TPA-promoted papilloma formation was blocked. Similarly, wound-associated epidermal hyperplasia/hyperkeratosis, a hallmark of adult HK1.fos phenotypes, was completely absent in HK1.fos-p53 -/- mice. Histological, immunofluorescence, and bromodeoxyuridine labeling analysis of neonatal or adult epidermis in HK1-p53 transgenic genotypes +/+, +/-, and -/- for p53 revealed no obvious differences in morphology, expression of keratinocyte differentiation markers, or mitotic index attributed to p53 loss. To determine whether the paradoxical absence of papillomas centered on up-regulation of p53 target genes, WAF1/CIP1/p21 RNA expression levels were examined in TPA promotion experiments. WAF1/CIP1/p21 expression increased in response to TPA promotion in all HK1-p53 transgenic genotypes regardless of p53 status. However, in HK1-p53 null genotypes, although TPA-induced, p53-independent WAF1/CIP1/p21 expression was observed, no large increase in expression was associated with the observed paradoxical tumorigenesis block. These data suggest that epidermis is somewhat resistant to the neoplastic effects of p53 loss, possibly possessing several compensatory systems. Alternatively, there may be a requirement for p53 expression in response to TPA or a wound-promotion stimulus in mouse epidermis.

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This work was supported in part by NIH Grant CA52607 and a grant from the Texas Advanced Technology Program (ATP004949048).

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