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Cell Death Differ. 2002 Jan;9(1):82-8.

Pre-processed caspase-9 contained in mitochondria participates in apoptosis.

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Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, UMR1599, Institut Gustave Roussy, 39 rue Camille-Desmoulins, F-94805 Villejuif, France.


As shown here, mitochondria purified from different organs (liver, brain, kidney, spleen and heart) contain both pro-caspase-9 and the processed, mature form of caspase-9. Purified liver mitochondria release mature caspase-9 upon induction of permeability transition in vitro. This is accompanied by a discrete increase in the enzymatic cleavage of pro-caspase-9 substrates. We found that SHEP neuroblastoma cells constitutively contain pre-processed caspase-9 in their mitochondria, using a combination of subcellular fractionation and immunofluorescence with an antibody specific for the processed caspase. This is a cell type-specific phenomenon since HeLa cells mitochondria mainly contain pro-caspase-9 and comparatively little processed caspase-9. Upon introduction of apoptosis, mitochondrial pro-caspase-9 translocates to the cytosol and to the nucleus. This phenomenon is inhibited by transfection with Bcl-2. In synthesis, we report the unexpected finding that mitochondria can contain a pre-processed caspase isoform in non-apoptotic cells. Bcl-2-mediated regulation of mitochondrial membrane permeabilization may contribute to apoptosis control by preventing mitochondrial, pre-processed caspase-9 from interacting with its cytosolic activators.

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