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J Biol Chem. 2001 Feb 16;276(7):5085-92. Epub 2000 Nov 1.

SM-20 is a novel mitochondrial protein that causes caspase-dependent cell death in nerve growth factor-dependent neurons.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Medicine, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


Sympathetic neurons undergo protein synthesis-dependent apoptosis when deprived of nerve growth factor (NGF). Expression of SM-20 is up-regulated in NGF-deprived sympathetic neurons, and ectopic SM-20 is sufficient to promote neuronal death in the presence of NGF. We now report that SM-20 is a mitochondrial protein that promotes cell death through a caspase-dependent mechanism. SM-20 immunofluorescence was present in the cytoplasm in a punctate pattern that colocalized with cytochrome oxidase I and with mitochondria-selective dyes. Analysis of SM-20/dihydrofolate reductase fusion proteins revealed that the first 25 amino acids of SM-20 contain a functional mitochondrial targeting sequence. An amino-terminal truncated form of SM-20 was not restricted to mitochondria but instead localized throughout the cytosol and nucleus. Nevertheless, the truncated SM-20 retained the ability to induce neuronal death, similar to the wild type protein. SM-20-induced death was accompanied by caspase-3 activation and was blocked by a general caspase inhibitor. Additionally, overexpression of SM-20, under conditions where cell death is blocked by a general caspase inhibitor, did not result in widespread release of cytochrome c from mitochondria. These results indicate that SM-20 is a novel mitochondrial protein that may be an important mediator of neurotrophin-withdrawal-mediated cell death.

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