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Tissue Cell. 1999 Jun;31(3):357-71.

Structural elements common to mitosis and apoptosis.

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Laboratory of Molecular Pathology, Faculty of Medicine of São Paulo, Brazil.


Both mitotic and apoptotic cells display hypercondensation of the chromatin and loss of the nuclear envelope (Lazebnik et al., 1993). Herein, we describe a third similarity between the two processes. We have observed, initially in apoptotic cells of the PC-12 lineage clusters of 40-60 (approximately 50) nm vesicles adjoined by a minor contingent of tubule vesicular elements of 100-200 nm which are indistinguishable from their vesicular counterparts in mitotic PC-12 cells. The clusters of approximately 50 nm vesicles were subsequently observed in all studied rat tissue cells in apoptosis (plasma cells and macrophages, secretory epithelial cells from pancreatic acini, ventral lobe of prostate and mammary gland). Clusters of approximately 50 nm vesicles comparable to those of the PC-12 cells were found in HeLa cells treated with human alfa TNF, in WEHI-3 cells exposed to VM 26 (a teneposide) (Sesso et al., 1997) and in HL-60 cells treated with thapsigargin. PC-12 and HeLa cells affixed to coverslips were double labelled and examined with the fluorescence microscope to reveal simultaneously the disposition of the chromatin with Hoechst stain and the distribution of the fluorescence of Golgi or of Golgi-associated proteins. A common pattern of fluorescence was observed in a minor proportion of apoptotic cells using three different antibodies used. The label frequently appeared as finely dispersed granules in the cytoplasm. In some apoptotic cells, relatively coarse granules were observed. This pattern of label distribution is compatible with the disposition of vesicular clusters we have encountered in apoptotic PC-12 cells sectioned serially or semi serially. In such sections of both mitotic and apoptotic PC-12 cells, we noticed that the conglomerates of 50 nm vesicles were frequently associated with cisternae of the rough ER. Vesicles of similar size were also noted pinching off from the extremities of Golgi cisternae reduced in size. These cisternae diminish in length and width when they are in the process of disassembling at the very beginning of mitosis and in apoptosis.

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