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Eur J Biochem. 1994 Nov 15;226(1):23-30.

Identification of an endonuclease responsible for apoptosis in rat thymocytes.

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Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, University of Tokyo, Japan.


Analyses of cleavage ends of DNA fragments in apoptotic rat thymocytes induced by gamma-ray irradiation or by treatment with dexamethasone revealed that in both cases the fragments produced had 3'-hydroxyl (OH) and 5'-phosphoryl (P) ends of DNA chains. Rat thymocyte nuclei contained at least three endonuclease activities (deoxyribonucleases alpha, beta and gamma) that were able to cleave chromatin to mononucleosomal and oligonucleosomal fragments. The nuclei of apoptotic rat thymocytes induced by gamma-ray irradiation or dexamethasone retained considerable deoxyribonuclease gamma activity, but not alpha or beta deoxyribonuclease activity. During the induction of apoptosis, treatment with cycloheximide, which suppressed apoptosis, resulted in marked decreases of deoxyribonucleases alpha and beta activities. After release of cycloheximide inhibition, DNA fragmentation associated with apoptosis occurred in the cycloheximide-treated thymocyte nuclei, in which deoxyribonuclease gamma activity was only observed. The purified deoxyribonucleases alpha and beta were divalent cation-independent acidic endonucleases, which were separated on a CM5PW column by HPLC. The molecular masses of deoxyribonucleases alpha and beta were 28 kDa and 30 kDa, respectively, as determined by TSK G-2000SW gel-filtration HPLC, and both were 32 kDa in molecular mass as determined by SDS/PAGE. In contrast, deoxyribonuclease gamma, a neutral endonuclease, required both Ca2+ and Mg2+ for full activity and was inhibited by Zn2+. The molecular mass of deoxyribonuclease gamma was 31 kDa and 33 kDa when measured by gel filtration and SDS/PAGE, respectively. Under these optimal conditions, deoxyribonuclease gamma was shown to produce 3'-OH/5'-P ends of nucleosomal DNA fragments, while deoxyribonucleases alpha and beta both formed DNA fragments with 3'-P/5'-OH ends. The ends formed by cleavage with deoxyribonuclease gamma were the same as those produced in apoptotic rat thymocytes. On the basis of these results, it seems likely that deoxyribonuclease gamma is responsible for internucleosomal cleavage of chromatin during thymic apoptosis.

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