Skeletal muscle differentiation entails the coordination of muscle-specific gene expression and terminal withdrawal from the cell cycle. This cell cycle arrest in the G0 phase requires the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein (Rb). The function of Rb is negatively regulated by cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks), which are controlled by Cdk inhibitors. Expression of MyoD, a skeletal muscle-specific transcriptional regulator, activated the expression of the Cdk inhibitor p21 during differentiation of murine myocytes and in nonmyogenic cells. MyoD-mediated induction of p21 did not require the tumor suppressor protein p53 and correlated with cell cycle withdrawal. Thus, MyoD may induce terminal cell cycle arrest during skeletal muscle differentiation by increasing the expression of p21.
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