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Nat Cell Biol. 2000 Jun;2(6):318-25.

Changes in intramitochondrial and cytosolic pH: early events that modulate caspase activation during apoptosis.

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Programme on Apoptosis and Cell Death Regulation, The Burnham Institute, 10901 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Mitochondria trigger apoptosis by releasing caspase activators, including cytochrome c (cytC). Here we show, using a pH-sensitive green fluorescent protein (GFP), that mitochondria-dependent apoptotic stimuli (such as Bax, staurosporine and ultraviolet irradiation) induce rapid, Bcl-2-inhibitable mitochondrial alkalinization and cytosol acidification, followed by cytC release, caspase activation and mitochondrial swelling and depolarization. These events are not induced by mitochondria-independent apoptotic stimuli, such as Fas. Activation of cytosolic caspases by cytC in vitro is minimal at neutral pH, but maximal at acidic pH, indicating that mitochondria-induced acidification of the cytosol may be important for caspase activation; this finding is supported by results obtained from cells using protonophores. Cytosol acidification and cytC release are suppressed by oligomycin, a FoF1-ATPase/H +-pump inhibitor, but not by caspase inhibitors. Ectopic expression of Bax in wild-type, but not FoF1/H+-pump-deficient, yeast cells similarly results in mitochondrial matrix alkalinization, cytosol acidification and cell death. These findings indicate that mitochondria-mediated alteration of intracellular pH may be an early event that regulates caspase activation in the mitochondrial pathway for apoptosis.

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