Studies on the mechanism of apoptosis in this laboratory support a model in which signal transduction involving caspase 3 leads to activation of a serine protease called Mr 24,000 apoptotic protease (AP24), which then induces internucleosomal DNA fragmentation in the nucleus. This study examined the effect of Bcl-2 overexpression on activation of AP24 and the induction of DNA fragmentation by AP24 in isolated nuclei. It was demonstrated that overexpression of Bcl-2 in either HL-60 or PW leukemia cell lines suppressed activation of AP24 induced by either tumor necrosis factor or UV light and protected cells from apoptosis. Furthermore, nuclei isolated from Bcl-2-overexpressing cells were relatively resistant to internucleosomal DNA fragmentation induced by AP24 isolated from apoptotic cells. Bcl-2-overexpressing cells that were nutritionally depleted of glutathione (GSH) became sensitive to tumor necrosis factor- or UV light-induced activation of AP24 and underwent apoptotic cell death. Moreover, nuclei isolated from Bcl-2-overexpressing cells that were depleted of GSH became sensitive to AP24-induced DNA fragmentation. The addition of exogenous GSH blocked the proteolytic activity of AP24, as well as its ability to induce DNA fragmentation in normal isolated nuclei. These results indicate that Bcl-2 can attenuate at least two events in the AP24 apoptotic pathway: activation of AP24 and induction of DNA fragmentation by activated AP24. Furthermore, agents that deplete intracellular levels of GSH may have therapeutic use in the sensitization of Bcl-2-overexpressing cancer cells to apoptotic cell death.
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