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J Biol Chem. 2002 Jan 18;277(3):1957-61. Epub 2001 Nov 14.

Death-associated protein (DAP) kinase plays a central role in ceramide-induced apoptosis in cultured hippocampal neurons.

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  • 1Department of Biological Chemistry, Department of Molecular Genetics, and Department of Organic Chemistry, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


Treatment of cultured hippocampal neurons with high concentrations of short-chain acyl ceramide derivatives, such as N-hexanoyl-D-sphingosine (C(6)-Cer), results in apoptotic cell death. We now show that death-associated protein (DAP) kinase plays an important role in mediating this effect. Upon incubation with C(6)-Cer, DAP kinase levels are elevated as early as 1 h after treatment, reaching levels 2-3-fold higher than untreated cells after 4 h. Neurons cultured from DAP kinase-deficient mice were significantly less sensitive to apoptosis induced by C(6)-Cer or by ceramide generated by high concentrations of nerve growth factor. A peptide corresponding to the 17 amino acids at the C terminus of DAP kinase protected wild type neurons from C(6)-Cer-induced death and from death induced by the addition of exogenous bacterial neutral sphingomyelinase, whereas a scrambled peptide had no protective effect, implying that the DAP kinase C-terminal tail inhibits the function of DAP kinase. Together, these data demonstrate that DAP kinase plays a central role in ceramide-induced cell death in neurons, but the pathway in which DAP kinase is involved is not the only one via which ceramide can induce apoptosis.

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