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Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Jul 1;76(1):11-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2008.03.016. Epub 2008 Apr 1.

Cytoskeleton and apoptosis.

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INSERM U749, Faculté de Pharmacie, 92290 Châtenay-Malabry, France.


Apoptosis is a genetically programmed and physiological mode of cell death that leads to the removal of unwanted or abnormal cells. Cysteine-proteases called caspases are responsible for the apoptotic execution phase which is characterized by specific biochemical events as well as morphological changes. These changes, which lead to the orderly dismantling of the apoptotic cell, include cell contraction, dynamic membrane blebbing, chromatin condensation, nuclear disintegration, cell fragmentation followed by phagocytosis of the dying cell. They involve major modifications of the cytoskeleton which are largely mediated by cleavage of several of its components by caspases. For example, dynamic membrane blebbing is due to the increased contractility of the acto-myosin system following myosin light chain (MLC) phosphorylation. MLC phosphorylation is a consequence of the cleavage of a Rho GTPase effector, the kinase ROCK I, by caspase-3. This cleavage induces a constitutive kinase activity by removal of an inhibitory domain. Chromatin condensation is facilitated by the processing of lamins by caspases. Collapse of the cytokeratin network is mediated by cleavage of keratin 18. On another hand, the actin cytoskeleton rearrangement needed in the phagocyte for engulfment of the dying cell is due to the activation of the small GTPase Rac, a GTPase of the Rho family that induces actin polymerisation and formation of lamellipodia. In addition to mediating the morphological modifications of the apoptotic cell, several proteins of the cytoskeleton such as actin and keratins are also involved in the regulation of apoptotic signaling.

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