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J Cell Biol. 2000 Jan 10;148(1):59-72.

Caspase-dependent Cdk activity is a requisite effector of apoptotic death events.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Illinois College of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois 60612, USA.


The caspase-dependent activation of cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks) in varied cell types in response to disparate suicidal stimuli has prompted our examination of the role of Cdks in cell death. We have tested the functional role of Cdk activity in cell death genetically, with the expression of dominant negative Cdk mutants (DN-Cdks) and Cdk inhibitory genes. Here we demonstrate that Cdk2 activity is necessary for death-associated chromatin condensation and other manifestations of apoptotic death, including cell shrinkage and the loss of adhesion to substrate. Susceptibility to the induction of the cell death pathway, including the activation of the caspase cascade, is unimpaired in cells in which Cdk2 activity is inhibited. The direct visualization of active caspase activity in these cells confirms that death-associated Cdk2 acts downstream of the caspase cascade. Cdk inhibition also does not prevent the loss of mitochondrial membrane potential and membrane phospholipid asymmetry, which may be direct consequences of caspase activity, and dissociates these events from apoptotic condensation. Our data suggest that caspase activity is necessary, but not sufficient, for the full physiological cell death program and that a requisite function of the proteolytic caspase cascade is the activation of effector Cdks.

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