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PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e19786. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0019786. Epub 2011 May 17.

Caspase inhibition blocks cell death and enhances mitophagy but fails to promote T-cell lymphoma.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Roy J. and Lucille P. Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, United States of America.


Caspase-9 is a component of the apoptosome that mediates cell death following release of cytochrome c from mitochondria. Inhibition of Caspase-9 with a dominant negative construct (Casp9DN) blocks apoptosome function, promotes viability and has been implicated in carcinogenesis. Inhibition of the apoptosome in vitro impairs mitochondrial function and promotes mitophagy. To examine whether inhibition of the apoptosome would enhance mitophagy and promote oncogenesis in vivo, transgenic mice were generated that express Casp9DN in the T cell lineage. The effects of Casp9DN on thymocyte viability, mitophagy and thymic tumor formation were examined. In primary thymocytes, Casp9DN delayed dexamethasone (Dex)-induced cell death, altered mitochondrial structure, and decreased oxidant production. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) revealed that inhibition of the apoptosome resulted in structurally abnormal mitochondria that in some cases were engulfed by double-membrane structures resembling autophagosomes. Consistent with mitochondria being engulfed by autophagosomes (mitophagy), confocal microscopy showed colocalization of LC3-GFP and mitochondria. However, Casp9DN did not significantly accelerate T-cell lymphoma alone, or in combination with Lck-Bax38/1, or with Beclin 1+/- mice, two tumor-prone strains in which altered mitochondrial function has been implicated in promoting tumor development. In addition, heterozygous disruption of Beclin 1 had no effect on T-cell lymphoma formation in Lck-Bax38/1 mice. Further studies showed that Beclin 1 levels had no effect on Casp9DN-induced loss of mitochondrial function. These results demonstrate that neither inhibition of apoptosome function nor Beclin 1 haploinsufficiency accelerate T-cell lymphoma development in mice.

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