Cyclin-dependent kinase 9 activity regulates neutrophil spontaneous apoptosis

Keqing Wang, Peter Hampson, Jon Hazeldine, Vladimir Krystof, Miroslav Strnad, Paul Pechan, Janet M. Lord

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neutrophils are the most abundant leukocyte and play a central role in the immune defense against rapidly dividing bacteria. However, they are also the shortest lived cell in the blood with a lifespan in the circulation of 5.4 days. The mechanisms underlying their short lifespan and spontaneous entry into apoptosis are poorly understood. Recently, the broad range cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) inhibitor R-roscovitine was shown to increase neutrophil apoptosis, implicating CDKs in the regulation of neutrophil lifespan. To determine which CDKs were involved in regulating neutrophil lifespan we first examined CDK expression in human neutrophils and found that only three CDKs: CDK5, CDK7 and CDK9 were expressed in these cells. The use of CDK inhibitors with differing selectivity towards the various CDKs suggested that CDK9 activity regulates neutrophil lifespan. Furthermore CDK9 activity and the expression of its activating partner cyclin T1 both declined as neutrophils aged and entered apoptosis spontaneously. CDK9 is a component of the P-TEFb complex involved in transcriptional regulation and its inhibition will preferentially affect proteins with short half-lives. Treatment of neutrophils with flavopiridol, a potent CDK9 inhibitor, increased apoptosis and caused a rapid decline in the level of the anti-apoptotic protein Mcl-1, whilst Bcl2A was unaffected. We propose that CDK9 activity is a key regulator of neutrophil lifespan, preventing apoptosis by maintaining levels of short lived anti-apoptotic proteins such as Mcl-1. Furthermore, as inappropriate inhibition of neutrophil apoptosis contributes to chronic inflammatory diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, CDK9 represents a novel therapeutic target in such diseases.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere30128
Number of pages6
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

© 2012 Wang et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-2
  • Flavonoids
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 9
  • Apoptosis
  • Piperidines
  • Neutrophils
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 5
  • Purines


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