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Senescent mouse cells fail to overtly regulate the HIRA histone chaperone and do not form robust Senescence Associated Heterochromatin Foci

Alyssa L Kennedy12, Tony McBryan3, Greg H Enders2, F Brad Johnson4, Rugang Zhang2 and Peter D Adams3*

Author Affiliations

1 Graduate Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Genetics, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, USA

2 Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, USA

3 CR-UK Beatson Labs, Glasgow University, Glasgow, UK

4 University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

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Cell Division 2010, 5:16  doi:10.1186/1747-1028-5-16

Published: 22 June 2010



Cellular senescence is a permanent growth arrest that occurs in response to cellular stressors, such as telomere shortening or activation of oncogenes. Although the process of senescence growth arrest is somewhat conserved between mouse and human cells, there are some critical differences in the molecular pathways of senescence between these two species. Recent studies in human fibroblasts have defined a cell signaling pathway that is initiated by repression of a specific Wnt ligand, Wnt2. This, in turn, activates a histone chaperone HIRA, and culminates in formation of specialized punctate domains of facultative heterochromatin, called

oci (SAHF), that are enriched in the histone variant, macroH2A. SAHF are thought to repress expression of proliferation-promoting genes, thereby contributing to senescence-associated proliferation arrest. We asked whether this Wnt2-HIRA-SAHF pathway is conserved in mouse fibroblasts.


We show that mouse embryo fibroblasts (MEFs) and mouse skin fibroblasts, do not form robust punctate SAHF in response to an activated Ras oncogene or shortened telomeres. However, senescent MEFs do exhibit elevated levels of macroH2A staining throughout the nucleus as a whole. Consistent with their failure to fully activate the SAHF assembly pathway, the Wnt2-HIRA signaling axis is not overtly regulated between proliferating and senescent mouse cells.


In addition to the previously defined differences between mouse and human cells in the mechanisms and phenotypes associated with senescence, we conclude that senescent mouse and human fibroblasts also differ at the level of chromatin and the signaling pathways used to regulate chromatin. These differences between human and mouse senescence may contribute to the increased propensity of mouse fibroblasts (and perhaps other mouse cell types) to become immortalized and transformed, compared to human cells.