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Mol Cell Biol. 2009 May;29(9):2431-42. doi: 10.1128/MCB.01344-08. Epub 2009 Mar 2.

Opposing roles for ATF2 and c-Fos in c-Jun-mediated neuronal apoptosis.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Zhongshan School of Medicine, Sun Yat-sen University, 74 Zhongshan Road II, Guangzhou, China.


The activator protein 1 (AP-1) transcription factor c-Jun is crucial for neuronal apoptosis. However, c-Jun dimerization partners and the regulation of these proteins in neuronal apoptosis remain unknown. Here we report that c-Jun-mediated neuronal apoptosis requires the concomitant activation of activating transcription factor-2 (ATF2) and downregulation of c-Fos. Furthermore, we have observed that c-Jun predominantly heterodimerizes with ATF2 and that the c-Jun/ATF2 complex promotes apoptosis by triggering ATF activity. Inhibition of c-Jun/ATF2 heterodimerization using dominant negative mutants, small hairpin RNAs, or decoy oligonucleotides was able to rescue neurons from apoptosis, whereas constitutively active ATF2 and c-Jun mutants were found to synergistically stimulate apoptosis. Bimolecular fluorescence complementation analysis confirmed that, in living neurons, c-Fos downregulation facilitates c-Jun/ATF2 heterodimerization. A chromatin immunoprecipitation assay also revealed that c-Fos expression prevents the binding of c-Jun/ATF2 heterodimers to conserved ATF sites. Moreover, the presence of c-Fos is able to suppress the expression of c-Jun/ATF2-mediated target genes and, therefore, apoptosis. Taken together, our findings provide evidence that potassium deprivation-induced neuronal apoptosis is mediated by concurrent upregulation of c-Jun/ATF2 heterodimerization and downregulation of c-Fos expression. This paradigm demonstrates opposing roles for ATF2 and c-Fos in c-Jun-mediated neuronal apoptosis.

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