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Biochem J. Jul 15, 2001; 357(Pt 2): 407–416.
PMCID: PMC1221967

Temporal relationships between ceramide production, caspase activation and mitochondrial dysfunction in cell lines with varying sensitivity to anti-Fas-induced apoptosis.


To clarify the chronology of events leading to anti-Fas-induced apoptosis, and the mechanisms of resistance to this death effector, we compared the response kinetics of three tumour cell lines that display varying sensitivity to anti-Fas (based on levels of apoptosis), in terms of ceramide release, mitochondrial function and the caspase-activation pathway. In the highly sensitive Jurkat cell line, early caspase-8 activation, observed from 2 h after treatment, was chronologically associated with an acute depletion of glutathione and the cleavage of caspase-3 and poly-ADP ribosyl polymerase (PARP), followed by a progressive fall in the mitochondrial transmembrane potential (Delta(psi)m), between 4 and 48 h after treatment. Ceramide levels began to increase 2 h after the addition of anti-Fas (with no increase during the first hour), and increased continuously to 640% of control cells at 48 h. In the moderately sensitive SCC61 adherent cells, comparable results were observed, though with lower levels of ceramide and a delay in the response kinetics, with apoptotic cells becoming flotant. Finally, despite early cleavage of caspase-8 at 2 h, and a sustained level of activation until 48 h, no apoptotic response was observed in anti-Fas-resistant SQ20B cells. This was confirmed by a lack of ceramide generation and mitochondrial changes, and by the absence of any detectable cleavage of caspase-3 or PARP. Inhibition of caspase processing, and amplification of endogenous ceramide signalling by pharmacological agents, allowed us to establish the order of cellular events, locating ceramide release after caspase-8 activation and before caspase-3 activation, and demonstrating a direct involvement for ceramide release in mitochondrial dysfunction. Furthermore, these experiments provide strong arguments for the role of endogenous ceramide as a key executor of apoptosis, rather than as a consequence of membrane alterations.

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Selected References

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