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Exp Cell Res. 1991 Jul;195(1):237-46.

The protein phosphatase inhibitor okadaic acid induces morphological changes typical of apoptosis in mammalian cells.

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Department of Anatomy, University of Bergen, Norway.


Okadaic acid, a specific and potent inhibitor of protein phosphatases 2A and 1, was tested for its effect on the morphology of a number of cell types: freshly isolated rat hepatocytes in suspension or in primary culture, the human mammary carcinoma cell line MCF-7, the human neuroblastoma cell line SK-N-SH, rat pituitary adenoma GH3 cells, and rat promyelocytic IPC-81 cells. All the cell types reacted within a few hours to okadaic acid in the concentration range 0.1 to 1 microM with profound morphological alterations. Among the changes noted were: condensation of chromatin, shedding of cell contents via surface bleb formation, redistribution and compacting of cytoplasmic organelles, formation of cytoplasmic vacuoles, and hyperconvolution of the nuclear membrane. In some cells nuclear fragmentation was noted. In addition, cells growing as monolayers rounded up and detached from the substratum. The treated cells had no swollen mitochondria and retained the ability to exclude trypan blue until the final stage of dissolution, supporting the hypothesis that the changes were apoptotic rather than necrotic. In hepatocytes the action of okadaic acid was mimicked by another phosphatase inhibitor, microcystin, and was accompanied by shrinkage of the cell volume, as judged by Coulter counter analysis. The action of phosphatase inhibitor was not abolished by protein synthesis inhibitors, Ca(2+)-depleted medium, or phorbol ester. Although hepatocyte DNA replication was very sensitive to inhibition by okadaic acid, DNA fragmentation was less pronounced in response to okadaic acid than other agents inducing the morphological appearance of apoptosis.

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