Kuganesan, Nishanth; Dlamini, Samkeliso; Tillekeratne, L M Viranga; Taylor, William R
p53 is a well-established critical cell cycle regulator. By inducing transcription of the gene encoding p21, p53 inhibits cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK)-mediated phosphorylation of cell cycle inhibitor retinoblastoma (RB) proteins. Phosphorylation of RB releases E2F transcription factor proteins that transactivate cell cycle-promoting genes. Here, we sought to uncover the contribution of p53, p21, CDK, RB, and E2F to the regulation of ferroptosis, an oxidative form of cell death. Our studies have uncovered unexpected complexity in this regulation. First, we showed that elevated levels of p53 enhance ferroptosis in multiple inducible and isogenic systems. On the other hand, we found that p21 suppresses ferroptosis. Elevation of CDK activity also suppressed ferroptosis under conditions where p21 suppressed ferroptosis, suggesting that the impact of p21 must extend beyond CDK inhibition. Furthermore, we showed that overexpression of E2F suppresses ferroptosis in part via a p21-dependent mechanism, consistent with reports that this transcription factor can induce transcription of p21. Finally, deletion of RB genes enhanced ferroptosis. Taken together, these results show that signals affecting ferroptotic sensitivity emanate from multiple points within the p53 tumor suppressor pathway.