The transcription factor E2F is regulated during the cell cycle through interactions with the product of the retinoblastoma susceptibility gene and related proteins. It is thought that E2F-mediated gene regulation at the G1/S boundary and during S phase may be one of the rate-limiting steps in cell proliferation. It was reported that in vivo overexpression of E2F-1 in fibroblasts induces S phase entry and leads to apoptosis. This observation suggests that E2F plays a role in both cell cycle regulation and apoptosis. To further understand the role of E2F in cell cycle progression, cell death, and tumor development, we have blocked endogenous E2F activity in HBL-100 cells, derived from nonmalignant human breast epithelium, using dominant-negative mutants under the control of a tetracycline-dependent expression system. We have shown here that induction of dominant-negative mutants led to strong downregulation of transiently transfected E2F-dependent chloramphenicol acetyl transferase reporter constructs and of endogenous c-myc, which has been described as a target gene of the transcription factor E2F/DP. In addition, we have shown that blocking of E2F could efficiently protect from apoptosis induced by serum starvation within a period of 10 d, whereas control cells started to die after 24 h. Surprisingly, blocking of E2F did not alter the rate of proliferation or of DNA synthesis of these cells; this finding indicates that cell-cycle progression could be driven in an E2F-independent manner. In addition, we have been able to show that blocking of endogenous E2F in HBL-100 cells led to rapid induction of tumor growth in severe combined immunodeficiency mice. No tumor growth could be observed in mice that received mock-transfected clones or tetracycline to block expression of the E2F mutant constructs in vivo. Thus, it appears that E2F has a potential tumor-suppressive function under certain circumstances. Furthermore, we provide evidence that dysregulation of apoptosis may be an important step in tumorigenesis.

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