The cell proliferation antigen Ki-67 is widely used in cancer histopathology, but estimations of Ki-67 expression levels are inconsistent and understanding of its regulation is limited. Here we show that cell cycle regulation underlies variable Ki-67 expression in all situations analyzed, including non-transformed human cells, normal mouse intestinal epithelia and adenomas, human cancer cell lines with or without drug treatments, and human breast and colon cancers. In normal cells, Ki-67 was a late marker of cell cycle entry; Ki-67 mRNA oscillated with highest levels in G2 while protein levels increased throughout the cell cycle, peaking in mitosis. Inhibition of CDK4/CDK6 revealed proteasome-mediated Ki-67 degradation in G1. After cell cycle exit, low-level Ki-67 expression persisted but was undetectable in fully quiescent differentiated cells or senescent cells. CDK4/CDK6 inhibition in vitro and in tumors in mice caused G1 cell cycle arrest and eliminated Ki-67 mRNA in RB1-positive cells but had no effect in RB1-negative cells, which continued to proliferate and express Ki-67. Thus, Ki-67 expression varies due to cell cycle regulation, but it remains a reliable readout for effects of CDK4/CDK6 inhibitors on cell proliferation.
- Received March 11, 2016.
- Revision received February 3, 2017.
- Accepted March 2, 2017.
- Copyright ©2017, American Association for Cancer Research.