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The intensities of canonical senescence biomarkers integrate the duration of cell-cycle withdrawal
Humza M Ashraf 1 2, Brianna Fernandez 1 2, Sabrina L Spencer 3 4
Senescence, a state of irreversible cell-cycle withdrawal, is difficult to distinguish from quiescence, a state of reversible cell-cycle withdrawal. This difficulty arises because quiescent and senescent cells are defined by overlapping biomarkers, raising the question of whether these states are truly distinct. To address this, we use single-cell time-lapse imaging to distinguish slow-cycling cells that spend long periods in quiescence from cells that never cycle after recovery from senescence-inducing treatments, followed by staining for various senescence biomarkers. We find that the staining intensity of multiple senescence biomarkers is graded rather than binary and reflects the duration of cell-cycle withdrawal, rather than senescence per se. Together, our data show that quiescent and apparent senescent cells are nearly molecularly indistinguishable from each other at a snapshot in time. This suggests that cell-cycle withdrawal itself is graded rather than binary, where the intensities of senescence biomarkers integrate the duration of past cell-cycle withdrawal.