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EMBO J. 1996 Aug 1;15(15):3861-70.

Cathepsin D protease mediates programmed cell death induced by interferon-gamma, Fas/APO-1 and TNF-alpha.

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Department of Molecular Genetics and Virology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel.


A functional approach of gene cloning was applied to HeLa cells in an attempt to isolate positive mediators of programmed cell death. The approach was based on random inactivation of genes by transfections with antisense cDNA expression libraries, followed by the selection of cells that survived in the presence of the external apoptotic stimulus. An antisense cDNA fragment identical to human cathepsin D aspartic protease was rescued by this positive selection. The high cathepsin D antisense RNA levels protected the HeLa cells from interferon-gamma- and Fas/APO-1-induced death. Pepstatin A, an inhibitor of cathepsin D, suppressed cell death in these systems and interfered with the TNF-alpha-induced programmed cell death of U937 cells as well. During cell death, expression of cathepsin D was elevated and processing of the protein was affected, which resulted in high steady-state levels of an intermediate, proteolytically active, single chain form of this protease. Overexpression of cathepsin D by ectopic expression induced cell death in the absence of any external stimulus. Altogether, these results suggest that this well-known endoprotease plays an active role in cytokine-induced programmed cell death, thus adding cathepsin D to the growing list of proteases that function as positive mediators of apoptosis.

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