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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1999 Aug 27;262(2):381-7.

Differences in expression of pro-caspases in small cell and non-small cell lung carcinoma.

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Department of Toxicology, Karolinska Institutet, Box 210, Stockholm, S-171 77, Sweden.


Expression of several molecular determinants of apoptosis was analyzed in 10 untreated small cell (SCLC) and 6 untreated non-small cell (NSCLC) lung carcinoma cell lines. Although SCLC lines were more prone to spontaneous apoptosis compared with NSCLC lines, the former showed higher Bcl-2 expression and a higher Bcl-2/Bax ratio. In order to understand this apparent contradiction, the expression of pro-caspases as well as calpain was analyzed in these cell lines at the protein and mRNA levels. No differences in protein level of pro-caspases-2, -3, -7, and -9 and of calpain were detected between the SCLC and the NSCLC lines, but a striking difference in pro-caspase-8 expression was noted. All 6 NSCLC, but only 2 of the 10 SCLC lines, expressed pro-caspase-8 protein. Further experiments using the RNase protection assay indicated that the lack of pro-caspase-8 expression at the mRNA level was characteristic for SCLC. Using the same experimental approach, we found that SCLC cell lines in addition to pro-caspase-8 were deficient in mRNA expression of pro-caspases-1, -4, and -10, suggesting a different caspase-activating cascade in SCLC compared with NSCLC. This first systematic characterization of pro-caspase expression in lung cancer surprisingly showed that SCLC, which are more prone to undergo spontaneous apoptosis, are deficient in several pro-caspases and have a high Bcl-2/Bax ratio. Thus, the propensity of SCLC cells to undergo apoptosis cannot be explained only by the expression of factors involved in regulation or execution of apoptosis.

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