Cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor 3 (CDKN3) is a dual-specificity cell cycle regulatory phosphatase. In interphase, CDKN3 prevents premature G1/S transition by dephosphorylating interphase cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) to prevent premature inactivation of the RB pathway. During cell division, CDKN3 dephosphorylates the key mitotic kinase CDK1 at threonine-161 to extinguish CDK1 activity at the exit from mitosis. CDKN3 knockdown in cultured cells impairs the spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC), accelerates cell cycle progression and causes chromosomal instability, suggesting that it may function as a tumor suppressor. However, since CDKN3 has been reported as overexpressed in some malignancies and mutated or silenced in others, it is unclear whether it functions as an oncogene or a tumor suppressor.

To understand the in vivo role of CDKN3 in carcinogenesis, we generated the first Cdkn3 conditional knockout mouse model. We found that Cdkn3-/- mice were viable, non-dysmorphic and born at expected Mendelian ratios, indicating that this gene is dispensable for normal embryonic development. In agreement with the postulated role of this phosphatase in cell cycle progression and regulation of CDKs, we found that Cdkn3-/- cells had increased CDK1, CDK2 and CDK4 activity; increased inhibitory phosphorylation of Rb; increased DNA replication and proliferation; and impaired SAC. Increased CDK activity and accelerated cell cycle progression caused genomic instability reflected by increased frequency of in vivo micronucleation during hematopoiesis as well as higher frequency of aneuploidy and multinucleation and accumulation of supernumerary centrosomes in Cdkn3-/- cells cultured ex vivo. Cdkn3-/- mice had increased myeloid colony-forming units in progenitor assays. Long-term observation of Cdkn3-/- mice revealed an increased risk of death from a variety of hematopoietic (leukemia and lymphoma) and non-hematopoietic (lung, prostate and ovarian) malignancies.

Our findings establish Cdkn3 as an in vivo tumor suppressor in bone marrow and a variety of other tissues. In the long term, Cdkn3-/- mice will serve as a tool to dissect the function of this phosphatase in cell cycle control in more detail, and may prove useful in preclinical studies of chemotherapy of CDK-hyperactive, genomically unstable leukemia and lymphoma.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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