The p16INK4/CDKN2/MTS1 gene encodes two structurally different proteins: a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor called p16INK4a, which regulates retinoblastoma protein-dependent G1 arrest, and a cell cycle inhibitor designated p19ARF, which arrests cell growth in G1-S and also in G2-M. Whereas inactivation of p16INK4a has been described as a frequent event in lung cancer, the current function of p19ARF is still poorly understood. We have examined the expression of the human p19ARF (hp19ARF) protein in a large series of lung cancers using immunohistochemistry and showed that the protein was more frequently lost in high-grade neuroendocrine (NE) lung tumors (large cell NE carcinoma and small cell lung carcinoma; 51 of 78, 65%) than it was in non-small cell lung cancer (25 of 101, 25%). No deleterious mutation was found in exons 1β and 2 of hp19ARF in those NE tumors with negative immunoreactivity, and a β transcript was detected in the majority of them. Concomitant absence of hp19ARF and retinoblastoma proteins was frequently detected in high-grade NE lung tumors, whereas no relationship could be found between the status of hp19ARF and p53 proteins in those tumors. These results are consistent with an alternative growth suppressor function for hp19ARF in NE lung cancer that is distinct from that of p16INK4a. Moreover, the frequent uncoupling between the β transcript and the hp19ARF protein suggests a novel mechanism of inactivation at the translational level.
This work was supported by Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer (Villejuif, France) Grants 1082 (to E. B.) and 6753 (to C-J. L.), by the Programme Hospitalier de Recherche Clinique, by the Conseil Regional Rhône-Alpes, and by the Conseil General Isere.