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Mol Cell Biol. 2001 Aug;21(15):4856-67.

Transcription factor AP-2alpha is preferentially cleaved by caspase 6 and degraded by proteasome during tumor necrosis factor alpha-induced apoptosis in breast cancer cells.

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Department of Cancer Biology, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


Several reports have linked activating protein 2alpha (AP-2alpha) to apoptosis, leading us to hypothesize that AP-2alpha is a substrate for caspases. We tested this hypothesis by examining the effects of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) on the expression of AP-2 in breast cancer cells. Here, we provide evidence that TNF-alpha downregulates AP-2alpha and AP-2gamma expression posttranscriptionally during TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis. Both a general caspase antagonist (zVADfmk) and a caspase 6-preferred antagonist (zVEIDfmk) inhibited TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis and AP-2alpha downregulation. In vivo tests showed that AP-2alpha was cleaved by caspases ahead of the DNA fragmentation phase of apoptosis. Recombinant caspase 6 cleaved AP-2alpha preferentially, although caspases 1 and 3 also cleaved it, albeit at 50-fold or higher concentrations. Activated caspase 6 was detected in TNF-alpha-treated cells, thus confirming its involvement in AP-2alpha cleavage. All three caspases cleaved AP-2alpha at asp(19) of the sequence asp-arg-his-asp (DRHD(19)). Mutating D(19) to A(19) abrogated AP-2alpha cleavage by all three caspases. TNF-alpha-induced cleavage of AP-2alpha in vivo led to AP-2alpha degradation and loss of DNA-binding activity, both of which were prevented by pretreatment with zVEIDfmk. AP-2alpha degradation but not cleavage was inhibited in vivo by PS-431 (a proteasome antagonist), suggesting that AP-2alpha is degraded subsequent to cleavage by caspase 6 or caspase 6-like enzymes. Cells transfected with green fluorescent protein-tagged mutant AP-2alpha are resistant to TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis, further demonstrating the link between caspase-mediated cleavage of AP-2alpha and apoptosis. This is the first report to demonstrate that degradation of AP-2alpha is a critical event in TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis. Since the DRHD sequence in vertebrate AP-2 is widely conserved, its cleavage by caspases may represent an important mechanism for regulating cell survival, proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis.

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