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J Histochem Cytochem. 2009 Apr;57(4):289-300. doi: 10.1369/jhc.2008.952044. Epub 2008 Nov 24.

Assessment of apoptosis by immunohistochemistry to active caspase-3, active caspase-7, or cleaved PARP in monolayer cells and spheroid and subcutaneous xenografts of human carcinoma.

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Service d'Anatomie et de Cytologie Pathologiques, Hôpital de Brabois, Centre Hospitalier Régional et Universitaire Nancy, Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy, France.


Immunohistochemistry to active caspase-3, recently recommended for apoptosis detection, is inappropriate to detect apoptosis involving caspase-7. Cleavage of poly-ADP-ribose polymerase 1 (PARP-1), a major substrate of both caspases, is a valuable marker of apoptosis. Apoptosis evaluation induced in vitro either by paclitaxel or by photodynamic treatment (PDT) with Foscan in HT29 or KB monolayer cells and HT29 spheroids yielded a close percentage of labeled cells whatever the antibody used, whereas in control specimens, cleaved PARP (c-PARP) immunostaining failed to detect apoptosis as efficiently as active caspase-3 or -7 immunostaining. Studies in MDA-MB231 monolayer cells and HT29 xenografts either subjected or not subjected to Foscan-PDT resulted in a significant higher number of active caspase-3-labeled cells, although immunofluorescence analysis showed c-PARP and active caspase-3 perfectly colocalized in tumors. A restricted expression of c-PARP was obvious in the greater part of caspase-3 expressing cells from control tumor, whereas photosensitized tumors showed a higher number of cells expressing large fluorescent spots from both active caspase-3 and c-PARP. These results support the assumption that c-PARP expression was dependent on treatment-induced apoptosis. The absence of caspase-7 activation in some caspase-3-expressing cells undergoing Foscan-PDT shows the relevance of using antibodies that can discriminate caspase-dependent apoptotic pathways.

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