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J Biol Chem. 2008 Mar 28;283(13):8423-33. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M707687200. Epub 2008 Jan 29.

Chelerythrine induces apoptosis through a Bax/Bak-independent mitochondrial mechanism.

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Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, ASTAR (Agency for Science, Technology, and Research), 61 Biopolis Dr. (Proteos), Singapore.


Although murine embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs) with Bax or Bak deleted displayed no defect in apoptosis signaling, MEFs with Bax and Bak double knock-out (DKO) showed dramatic resistance to diverse apoptotic stimuli, suggesting that Bax and Bak are redundant but essential regulators for apoptosis signaling. Chelerythrine has recently been identified as a Bcl-xL inhibitor that is capable of triggering apoptosis via direct action on mitochondria. Here we report that in contrast to classic apoptotic stimuli, chelerythrine is fully competent in inducing apoptosis in the DKO MEFs. Wild-type and DKO MEFs are equally sensitive to chelerythrine-induced morphological and biochemical changes associated with apoptosis phenotype. Interestingly, chelerythrine-mediated release of cytochrome c is rapid and precedes Bax translocation and integration. Although the BH3 peptide of Bim is totally inactive in releasing cytochrome c from isolated mitochondria of DKO MEFs, chelerythrine maintains its potency and efficacy in inducing direct release of cytochrome c from these mitochondria. Furthermore, chelerythrine-mediated mitochondrial swelling and loss in mitochondrial membrane potential (DeltaPsi(m)) are inhibited by cyclosporine A, suggesting that mitochondrial permeability transition pore is involved in chelerythrine-induced apoptosis. Although certain apoptotic stimuli have been shown to elicit cytotoxic effect in the DKO MEFs through alternate death mechanisms, chelerythrine does not appear to engage necrotic or autophagic death mechanism to trigger cell death in the DKO MEFs. These results, thus, argue for the existence of an alternative Bax/Bak-independent apoptotic mechanism that involves cyclosporine A-sensitive mitochondrial membrane permeability.

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