Proteolysis is an early event of apoptosis which appears to be associated with activation of the endonuclease which is responsible for internucleosomal DNA cleavage. The present study was designed to reveal the possible role of proteolysis in other early events, such as chromatin condensation, nuclear breakdown, and destabilization of in situ DNA double-stranded structure. Apoptosis of human leukemic HL-60 cells and rat thymocytes was induced by different agents, including DNA topoisomerase inhibitors, an RNA antimetabolite, and the glucocorticosteroid, prednisolone. DNA degradation was evaluated by pulsed field and conventional gel electrophoresis and by the presence of in situ DNA strand breaks. DNA stability was estimated by the measure of its sensitivity in situ to denaturation. Chromatin condensation, nuclear breakdown, and other morphological changes were monitored by interference contrast and UV microscopy following cell staining with the DNA-specific fluorochrome 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole. Several irreversible or reversible serine protease inhibitors prevented internucleosomal DNA degradation, nuclear breakdown, and destabilization of DNA double-stranded structure. The effective inhibitors, however, did not prevent the onset of chromatin condensation, nor the loss of the fine structural framework, nor the initial step of DNA cleavage generating DNA fragments of ≥50 kb in size. The data indicate that in both cell systems the activity of proteases sensitive to the inhibitors tested is needed for internucleosomal DNA cleavage to occur. The data also suggest that these proteases may be involved in dissolution of the nuclear envelope. Because nuclear matrix proteins and histones stabilize DNA in situ, and the decrease in DNA stability which occurs during apoptosis is precluded by the inhibitors, it is likely that serine proteases may degrade DNA stabilizing proteins. The activity of these proteases, however, appears needed neither for DNA cleavage to ≥50-kb fragments nor for the onset of chromatin condensation which is associated with dissolution of the structural framework of the nucleus.
Experimental Cell Research – Elsevier
Published: Mar 15, 1996
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