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Exp Cell Res. 1995 Oct;220(2):283-91.

Characterization of apoptotic phenomena induced by treatment with L-asparaginase in NIH3T3 cells.

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Istituti di Patologia Generale, Università degli Studi di Parma, Italy.


The treatment of NIH3T3 cells with L-asparaginase causes a complete and reversible growth arrest with a decrease of cell number in the first 2 days. The enzyme induces impressive morphological changes that have been studied exploiting eosin in fixed cells and calcein in intact cells as sources of fluorescence for confocal microscopy. The first changes are observed after 12 h of treatment and the process is complete after 48 h. Both nucleus and cytoplasm shrink, while cells round and lose processes. Eventually most cells break; several debris include strongly hematoxylinic bodies negative for eosin fluorescence. Some cells neither round nor break in fragments. Throughout the process cells and fragments retain calcein fluorescence, thus indicating the integrity of the cell membrane. A rapid depletion of the intracellular pools of both glutamine and glutamate occurs in treated cells, followed by a decrease in DNA and protein syntheses, while the cell content of ATP, the transmembrane gradient of sodium, and the active transport of amino acids are scarcely affected. It is concluded that (i) L-asparaginase induces an apoptotic process in NIH3T3 cells that is forerun by a marked intracellular depletion of glutamate and glutamine; and (ii) although the enzyme completely suppresses cell proliferation, only a subset of cells undergoes apoptosis upon treatment. These findings provide a model for the characterization of factors that determine cell sensitivity to the effects of L-asparaginase.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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