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J Biol Chem. 1996 Jun 14;271(24):14067-72.

The cooperative interaction of two different signaling pathways in response to bufalin induces apoptosis in human leukemia U937 cells.

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Laboratory of Biological Chemistry, School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Showa University, 1-5-8 Hatanodai, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 142, Japan.


Bufalin, an active principle of Chinese medicine, chan'su, induced typical apoptosis in human leukemia U937 cells. When U937 cells were treated with 10(-8) M bufalin in the absence of serum, mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase activity was markedly increased 6 h after the start of treatment and elevated so for 12 h. Prior to the activation of MAP kinase, increased activities of Ras, Raf-1, and MAP kinase kinase were found, but these enzymes were transiently activated by the treatment with bufalin. These results suggest that the signal was transmitted sequentially from Ras, Raf-1, and MAP kinase kinase to MAP kinase. In association with this signal transduction, the concentration of cAMP in the cells decreased markedly, suggesting that Raf-1 was also activated by a decrease in the extent of phosphorylation by protein kinase A. In fact, pretreatment of U937 cells with forskolin and 3-isobutyl-1-methylxanthine, which are known to increase the concentration of cAMP in the cells, and subsequent treatment with bufalin resulted in a decrease in both Raf-1 activity and DNA fragmentation. To confirm the participation of MAP kinase in the apoptotic process, antisense cDNA for MAP kinase kinase 1 was expressed in U937 cells. The transformants were significantly resistant to both DNA fragmentation and cell death in response to bufalin. Our findings suggest that a pathway with the persistent activation of MAP kinase in U937 cells in response to bufalin is at least one of the signal transduction pathways involved in the induction of apoptosis.

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