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Cytometry A. 2005 Feb;63(2):69-76.

Antimycin A-induced killing of HL-60 cells: apoptosis initiated from within mitochondria does not necessarily proceed via caspase 9.

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Department of Clinical Immunology, Pacific Medicine Laboratory Services, Royal North Shore Hospital, St. Leonards, NSW 2065, Australia.



Antimycin A (AMA) inhibits mitochondrial electron transport, collapses the mitochondrial membrane potential, and causes the production of reactive oxygen species. Previous work by me and my colleagues has demonstrated that AMA causes an array of typical apoptotic phenomena in HL-60 cells. The hypothesis that AMA causes HL-60 apoptosis by the intrinsic apoptotic pathway has now been tested.


Z-LEHD-FMK and Z-IETD-FMK were used as specific inhibitors of the initiator caspases 9 and 8, respectively. Caspase 3 activation, DNA fragmentation, and cellular disintegration were measured by flow cytometry. Cytochrome c release, chromatin condensation, and nuclear fragmentation were measured by microscopy.


AMA caused mitochondrial cytochrome c release and neither Z-LEHD-FMK nor Z-IETD-FMK inhibited that. In the absence of caspase inhibition there was a very close correlation between cytochrome c release and caspase 3 activation. Z-LEHD-FMK blocked caspase 3 activation but enhanced DNA fragmentation and failed to stop nuclear or cellular disintegration. Z-IETD-FMK also blocked caspase 3 activation but, in contrast to Z-LEHD-FMK, delayed DNA fragmentation and disintegration of the nucleus and the cell.


The hypothesis to explain AMA-induced HL-60 apoptosis was clearly inadequate because: (a) caspase 9 inhibition did not prevent DNA fragmentation or cell death, (b) apoptosis proceeded in the absence of caspase-3 activation, (c) the main pathway leading to activation of the executioner caspases was by caspase-8 activation, but caspase 8 inhibition only delayed apoptosis, and (d) activation of caspases 8 and 9 may be necessary for caspase-3 activation. Thus, in this cell model, apoptosis triggered from within the mitochondria does not necessarily proceed by caspase 9, and caspase 3 is not critical to apoptosis. The results provide further evidence that, when parts of the apoptotic network are blocked, a cell is able to complete the program of cell death by alternate pathways.

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