PCNA-mediated degradation of p21 coordinates the DNA damage response and cell cycle regulation in individual cells. Sheng et al
To enable reliable cell fate decisions, mammalian cells need to adjust their responses to dynamically changing internal states by rewiring the corresponding signaling networks. Here, we combine time-lapse microscopy of endogenous fluorescent reporters with computational analysis to understand at the single cell level how the p53-mediated DNA damage response is adjusted during cell cycle progression. Shape-based clustering revealed that the dynamics of the CDK inhibitor p21 diverges from the dynamics of its transcription factor p53 during S-phase. Using mathematical modeling, we predict and experimentally validate that S-phase specific degradation of p21 by PCNA-CRL4cdt2 is sufficient to explain these heterogeneous responses. This highlights how signaling pathways and cell regulatory networks intertwine to adjust the cellular response to the individual needs of a given cell.