We previously reported increased expression of p27Kip1 in a series of human breast cancer cell lines, as compared to cell lines established from normal mammary epithelial cells. These data were surprising because this protein exerts a growth-inhibitory function in normal cells, and p27Kip1 has been proposed as a candidate tumor suppressor gene. A possible explanation for the paradoxical increase in p27Kip1 in the breast cancer cell lines is that they had become refractory to the inhibitory effects of this protein. To address this question, here, we transfected the MCF7 breast cancer cell line and the MCF10F nontumorigenic mammary epithelial cell line with a vector containing the p27Kip1 cDNA to obtain derivatives that express increased levels of p27Kip1. The increased expression of p27Kip1 in both of these cell lines was associated with lengthening of the G1 phase, an increase in the doubling time, a decreased saturation density, and a decreased plating efficiency. In the MCF7 cells, anchorage-independent growth and in vivo tumorigenicity were also suppressed. These effects were associated with decreased cyclin E-associated in vitro kinase activity in both cell lines. The increased expression of p27Kip1 was associated with a decreased level of expression of cyclin D1 in the MCF10F cells but an increased level of the cyclin D1 protein in the MCF7 cell line. Both derivatives expressed slightly increased levels of the cyclin E protein. Thus, breast cancer cells are still responsive to p27Kip1-mediated inhibition of cell grwoth despite the high basal level of this protein. These results suggest that therapeutic strategies that further increase the level of expression of p27Kip1 or mimic its activity might be useful in cancer therapy.

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This research was supported in part by National Cancer Institute Grant CA 63467; by United States Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity Grant DAMRD17-94-J-4101, AIBS, 2584; and an award from the National Foundation for Cancer Research (to I. B. W.). Alessandro Sgambato was supported by a fellowship from the Italian Association for Cancer Research.

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