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J Biol Chem. 1988 Dec 5;263(34):18493-9.

Gliotoxin induces apoptosis in macrophages unrelated to its antiphagocytic properties.

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  • 1Division of Virology and Cellular Pathology, John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University, Canberra.


We have previously shown that the fungal metabolite and immunomodulating agent gliotoxin induces apparently random double-stranded fragmentation of genomic DNA in a variety of cell types and double- and single-stranded scission in isolated plasmid DNA. The in vitro damage to plasmid DNA appears to be mediated by reactive oxygen species, but the mechanism of damage to genomic DNA is not yet known. In this paper we show that treatment of macrophages with gliotoxin and some analogues gives rise to discrete DNA fragments with molecular weight 170 +/- 30 base pairs. This pattern of DNA fragmentation has the characteristics of apoptosis, a programmed form of cell death. Three structural analogues of gliotoxin and two S-acetylated precursors capable of intracellular hydrolysis to the thiol form induce identical DNA degradation patterns. Only those compounds with the epipolythiodioxopiperazine (ETP) bridged disulfide structure or those capable of extracellular conversion to ETP compounds are equipotent with gliotoxin in their effects on macrophage phagocytosis, although all are capable of generating reactive oxygen species intracellularly. These results suggest that the effect of gliotoxin on macrophage function as assessed by adherence to plastic surfaces is unrelated to DNA damage and in addition suggests a new mechanism by which the toxin and other ETP compounds may damage cells.

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