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Cell Death Differ. 2002 Sep;9(9):956-62.

Deoxyribonuclease IIalpha is required during the phagocytic phase of apoptosis and its loss causes perinatal lethality.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH 03755, USA.


Deoxyribonuclease IIalpha (DNase IIalpha) is one of many endonucleases implicated in DNA digestion during apoptosis. We produced mice with targeted disruption of DNase IIalpha and defined its role in apoptosis. Mice deleted for DNase IIalpha die at birth with many tissues exhibiting large DNA-containing bodies that result from engulfed but undigested cell corpses. These DNA-containing bodies are pronounced in the liver where fetal definitive erythropoiesis occurs and extruded nuclei are degraded. They are found between the digits, where apoptosis occurs, and in many other regions of the embryo. Defects in the diaphragm appear to cause death of the mice due to asphyxiation. The DNA in these bodies contains 3'-hydroxyl ends and therefore stain positive in the TUNEL assay. In addition, numerous unengulfed TUNEL-positive cells are observed throughout the embryo. Apoptotic cells are normally cleared rapidly from a tissue; hence the persistence of the DNA-containing bodies and TUNEL-positive cells identifies sites where apoptosis occurs during development. These results demonstrate that DNase IIalpha is not required for the generation of the characteristic DNA fragmentation that occurs during apoptosis but is required for degrading DNA of dying cells and this function is necessary for proper fetal development.

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