p21 functions as a cell cycle inhibitor and anti-proliferative effector in normal cells, and is dysregulated in some cancers. Earlier observations on p21 knockout models emphasized the role of this protein in cell cycle arrest under the p53 transcription factor activity. Although tumor-suppressor function of p21 is the most studied aspect of this protein in cancer, the role of p21 in phenotypic plasticity and its oncogenic/anti-apoptotic function, depending on p21 subcellular localization and p53 status, have been under scrutiny recently. Basic science and translational studies use precision gene editing to manipulate p21 itself, and proteins that interact with it; these studies have led to regulatory/functional/drug sensitivity discoveries as well as therapeutic approaches in cancer field. In this review, we will focus on targeting p21 in cancer research and its potential in providing novel therapies.
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