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Concept: Caspase


Methamphetamine is a drug of abuse that can cause neurotoxic damage in humans and animals. Modafinil, a wake-promoting compound approved for the treatment of sleeping disorders, is being prescribed off label for the treatment of methamphetamine dependence. The aim of the present study was to investigate if modafinil could counteract methamphetamine-induced neuroinflammatory processes, which occur in conjunction with degeneration of dopaminergic terminals in the mouse striatum. We evaluated the effect of a toxic methamphetamine binge in female C57BL/6 mice (4×5 mg/kg, i.p., 2 h apart) and modafinil co-administration (2×90 mg/kg, i.p., 1 h before the first and fourth methamphetamine injections) on glial cells (microglia and astroglia). We also evaluated the striatal expression of the pro-apoptotic BAX and anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 proteins, which are known to mediate methamphetamine-induced apoptotic effects. Modafinil by itself did not cause reactive gliosis and counteracted methamphetamine-induced microglial and astroglial activation. Modafinil also counteracted the decrease in tyrosine hydroxylase and dopamine transporter levels and prevented methamphetamine-induced increases in the pro-apoptotic BAX and decreases in the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 protein expression. Our results indicate that modafinil can interfere with methamphetamine actions and provide protection against dopamine toxicity, cell death, and neuroinflammation in the mouse striatum.

Concepts: Gene, Apoptosis, Glial cell, Caspase, Dopamine, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Microglia


The AKT, GSK3 and JNK family kinases have been implicated in neuronal apoptosis associated with neuronal development and several neurodegenerative conditions. However, the mechanisms by which these kinase pathways regulate apoptosis remain unclear. In this study we have investigated the role of these kinases in neuronal cell death using an established model of trophic factor deprivation induced apoptosis in cerebellar granule neurons. BCL-2 family proteins are known to be central regulators of apoptosis and we have determined that the pro-apoptotic family member Puma is transcriptionally up-regulated in trophic factor deprived neurons and that Puma induction is required for apoptosis in vitro and in vivo. Importantly, we demonstrate that Puma induction is dependent on both JNK activation and AKT inactivation. AKT is known to regulate a number of downstream pathways, however we have determined that PI3K-AKT inactivation induces Puma expression through a GSK3β-dependent mechanism. Finally we demonstrate that the JNK and AKT/GSK3β pathways converge to regulate FoxO3a-mediated transcriptional activation of Puma. In summary we have identified a novel and critical link between the AKT, GSK3β and JNK kinases and the regulation of Puma induction and suggest that this may be pivotal to the regulation of neuronal apoptosis in neurodegenerative conditions.

Concepts: Neuron, Signal transduction, Apoptosis, Programmed cell death, Caspase, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Bcl-2-associated death promoter


Prodigiosin and obatoclax, members of the prodiginines family, are small molecules with anti-cancer properties that are currently under preclinical and clinical trials. The molecular target(s) of these agents, however, is an open question. Combining experimental and computational techniques we find that prodigiosin binds to the BH3 domain in some BCL-2 protein families, which play an important role in the apoptotic programmed cell death. In particular, our results indicate a large affinity of prodigiosin for MCL-1, an anti-apoptotic member of the BCL-2 family. In melanoma cells, we demonstrate that prodigiosin activates the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway by disrupting MCL-1/BAK complexes. Computer simulations with the PELE software allow the description of the induced fit process, obtaining a detailed atomic view of the molecular interactions. These results provide new data to understand the mechanism of action of these molecules, and assist in the development of more specific inhibitors of anti-apoptotic BCL-2 proteins.

Concepts: Apoptosis, Programmed cell death, Caspase, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Bcl-2-associated X protein, Noxa, MCL1



The study of combined effects of pesticides represents a challenge for toxicology. In the case of the new growing generation of genetically modified (GM) plants with stacked traits, glyphosate-based herbicides (like Roundup) residues are present in the Roundup-tolerant edible plants (especially corns) and mixed with modified Bt insecticidal toxins that are produced by the GM plants themselves. The potential side effects of these combined pesticides on human cells are investigated in this work. Here we have tested for the very first time Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt toxins (10 ppb to 100 ppm) on the human embryonic kidney cell line 293, as well as their combined actions with Roundup, within 24 h, on three biomarkers of cell death: measurements of mitochondrial succinate dehydrogenase, adenylate kinase release by membrane alterations and caspase 3/7 inductions. Cry1Ab caused cell death from 100 ppm. For Cry1Ac, under such conditions, no effects were detected. The Roundup tested alone from 1 to 20 000 ppm is necrotic and apoptotic from 50 ppm, far below agricultural dilutions (50% lethal concentration 57.5 ppm). The only measured significant combined effect was that Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac reduced caspases 3/7 activations induced by Roundup; this could delay the activation of apoptosis. There was the same tendency for the other markers. In these results, we argue that modified Bt toxins are not inert on nontarget human cells, and that they can present combined side-effects with other residues of pesticides specific to GM plants. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: DNA, Cell, Bacteria, Adenosine triphosphate, Apoptosis, Toxicology, Citric acid cycle, Caspase


Apoptosis is a genetically regulated cell suicide programme mediated by activation of the effector caspases 3, 6 and 7. If apoptotic cells are not scavenged, they progress to a lytic and inflammatory phase called secondary necrosis. The mechanism by which this occurs is unknown. Here we show that caspase-3 cleaves the GSDMD-related protein DFNA5 after Asp270 to generate a necrotic DFNA5-N fragment that targets the plasma membrane to induce secondary necrosis/pyroptosis. Cells that express DFNA5 progress to secondary necrosis, when stimulated with apoptotic triggers such as etoposide or vesicular stomatitis virus infection, but disassemble into small apoptotic bodies when DFNA5 is deleted. Our findings identify DFNA5 as a central molecule that regulates apoptotic cell disassembly and progression to secondary necrosis, and provide a molecular mechanism for secondary necrosis. Because DFNA5-induced secondary necrosis and GSDMD-induced pyroptosis are dependent on caspase activation, we propose that they are forms of programmed necrosis.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Death, Apoptosis, Necrosis, Programmed cell death, Caspase


Effects of concomitant inhibition of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway and Bcl-2/Bcl-xL (BCL2L1) were examined in human myeloid leukemia cells. Tetracycline-inducible Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL dual knockdown sharply increased PI3K/AKT/mTOR inhibitor lethality. Conversely, inducible knockdown or dominant-negative AKT increased whereas constitutively active AKT reduced lethality of the Bcl-2/Bcl-xL inhibitor ABT-737. Furthermore, PI3K/mTOR inhibitors (e.g., BEZ235, PI-103) synergistically increased ABT-737-mediated cell death in multiple leukemia cell lines and reduced colony-formation in leukemic but not normal CD34+ cells. Notably, increased lethality was observed in 4/6 primary AML specimens. Responding, but not non-responding, samples exhibited basal AKT phosphorylation. PI3K/mTOR inhibitors markedly down-regulated Mcl-1 but increased Bim binding to Bcl-2/Bcl-xL; the latter effect was abrogated by ABT-737. Combined treatment also markedly diminished Bax/Bak binding to Mcl-1, Bcl-2 or Bcl-xL. Bax, Bak, or Bim (BCL2L11) knockdown, or Mcl-1 over-expression significantly diminished regimen-induced apoptosis. Interestingly, pharmacologic inhibition or shRNA knockdown of GSK3α/β significantly attenuated Mcl-1 down-regulation and decreased apoptosis. In a systemic AML xenograft model, dual tet-inducible knockdown of Bcl-2/Bcl-xL sharply increased BEZ235 anti-leukemic effects. In a subcutaneous xenograft model, BEZ235 and ABT-737 co-administration significantly diminished tumor growth, down-regulated Mcl-1, activated caspases, and prolonged survival. Together, these findings suggest that anti-leukemic synergism between PI3K/AKT/mTOR inhibitors and BH3 mimetics involves multiple mechanisms, including Mcl-1 down-regulation, release of Bim from Bcl-2/Bcl-xL as well as Bak and Bax from Mcl-1/Bcl-2/Bcl-xL, and GSK3α/β, culminating in Bax/Bak activation and apoptosis. They also argue that combining PI3K/AKT/mTOR inhibitors with BH3-mimetics warrants attention in AML, particularly in the setting of basal AKT activation and/or addiction.

Concepts: Apoptosis, Leukemia, Programmed cell death, Caspase, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, AKT, Bcl-2-associated death promoter


Pro-survival members of the Bcl-2 protein family inhibit cell death by binding short helical BH3 motifs in pro-apoptotic proteins. Mammalian pro-survival proteins Bcl-xL, Bcl-2, Bcl-w, Mcl-1 and Bfl-1 bind with varying affinities and specificities to native BH3 motifs, engineered peptides and small molecules. Biophysical studies have determined interaction patterns for these proteins, particularly for the most-studied family members Bcl-xL and Mcl-1. Bfl-1 is a pro-survival protein implicated in preventing apoptosis in leukemia, lymphoma and melanoma. Although Bfl-1 is a promising therapeutic target, relatively little is known about its binding preferences. We explored the binding of Bfl-1 to BH3-like peptides by screening a peptide library that was designed to sample a high degree of relevant sequence diversity. Screening using yeast-surface display led to several novel high-affinity Bfl-1 binders and to thousands of putative binders identified through deep sequencing. Further screening for specificity led to identification of a peptide that bound to Bfl-1 with Kd < 1 nM and very slow dissociation from Bfl-1 compared to other pro-survival Bcl-2 family members. A point mutation in this sequence gave a peptide with ~50 nM affinity for Bfl-1 that was selective for Bfl-1 in equilibrium binding assays. Analysis of engineered Bfl-1 binders deepens our understanding of how the binding profiles of pro-survival proteins differ, and may guide the development of targeted Bfl-1 inhibitors.

Concepts: Protein, Apoptosis, Programmed cell death, Caspase, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Bcl-2-associated death promoter, BCL2L11


Aluminum (Al) is considered to be a potentially toxic metal. Al exposure inhibits bone formation. Few studies have investigated the mechanism of inhibitory effects of Al on bone formation. Thus, in this study, osteoblasts were cultured and exposed to different concentrations of Al to investigate the mechanism behind the inhibitory effects of Al on bone formation. Al-treated osteoblasts showed signs of oxidative stress and a high apoptosis rate. The levels of osteoblasts activity markers (bone gamma-carboxyglutamic acid protein and bone alkaline phosphatase) were significantly lower in the Al-treated groups than in the control group. The c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), a major signaling pathway in regulating cell apoptosis, was activated. The phosphorylation state of JNK was significantly increased. The mRNA and protein expression of c-Jun were both significantly upregulated. The pro-apoptotic genes (caspase 3, caspase 9, bax, and factor-related apoptosis ligand) were significantly increased. However, Bcl-2, an anti-apoptotic gene, was significantly decreased. In conclusion, the results of this study indicate that Al induces osteoblast apoptosis by activating the oxidative stress-mediated JNK pathway, which causes cell injuries and reduces the number and function of osteoblasts, thereby inhibiting bone formation.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Signal transduction, Enzyme, Apoptosis, Caspase, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist


To search for novel strategies to enhance the tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL)-induced apoptosis pathways in glioblastoma, we used the B-cell lymphoma 2/Bcl2-like 2-inhibitor ABT-737. Here we report that ABT-737 and TRAIL cooperate to induce apoptosis in several glioblastoma cell lines in a highly synergistic manner (combination index <0.1). Interestingly, the concerted action of ABT-737 and TRAIL to trigger the accumulation of truncated Bid (tBid) at mitochondrial membranes is identified as a key underlying mechanism. ABT-737 and TRAIL cooperate to cleave BH3-interacting domain death agonist (Bid) into its active fragment tBid, leading to increased accumulation of tBid at mitochondrial membranes. Coinciding with tBid accumulation, the activation of Bcl2-associated X protein (Bax), loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, release of cytochrome-c and second mitochondria-derived activator of caspase (Smac) into the cytosol and caspase activation are strongly increased in cotreated cells. Of note, knockdown of Bid significantly decreases ABT-737- and TRAIL-mediated Bax activation and apoptosis. Also, caspase-3 silencing reduces ABT-737- and TRAIL-induced Bid cleavage and apoptosis, indicating that a caspase-3-driven, mitochondrial feedback loop contributes to Bid processing. Importantly, ABT-737 profoundly enhances TRAIL-triggered apoptosis in primary cultured glioblastoma cells derived from tumor material, underlining the clinical relevance. Also, ABT-737 acts in concert with TRAIL to suppress tumor growth in an in vivo glioblastoma model. In conclusion, the rational combination of ABT-737 and TRAIL cooperates to trigger tBid mitochondrial accumulation and apoptosis. This approach presents a promising strategy for targeting the apoptosis pathways in glioblastoma, which warrants further investigation.

Concepts: Mitochondrion, Cytosol, Cell biology, Apoptosis, Cytoplasm, Caspase, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist