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Curr Biol. 1997 Apr 1;7(4):246-52.

CED-4 induces chromatin condensation in Schizosaccharomyces pombe and is inhibited by direct physical association with CED-9.

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Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories, 44 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3PX, UK.



Three principal genes are involved in developmental programmed cell death (PCD) in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans. The ced-3 and ced-4 genes are both required for each PCD, whereas ced-9 acts to prevent the death-promoting actions of these genes in cells that are destined to survive. Vertebrate homologues of both ced-3 and ced-9 have been identified as the genes encoding the caspase cysteine proteases and the Bcl-2 family, respectively. In contrast, no vertebrate homologue of ced-4 is known. The CED-3/caspases are important effectors of apoptosis that are presumed to act by cleaving specific target substrates. However, the molecular functions of the CED-9/Bcl-2 and CED-4 proteins are unknown. The unicellular yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe shares many general cellular properties with metazoa, but has no identified cell suicide machinery. We have therefore used S. pombe as a naive model cell system in which to examine the biological effects of cell-death proteins.


Induction of wild-type ced-4 expression in S. pombe resulted in rapid focal chromatin condensation and lethality. Mutation of the putative nucleotide-binding P-loop motif of CED-4 (K165Q) eliminated the lethal phenotype. Immunolocalization of CED-4 to the condensed chromatin suggested that the phenotype may result from an intrinsic activity of CED-4. Co-expression of ced-9 prevented CED-4-induced chromatin condensation and lethality, and caused the relocalization of CED-4 to endoplasmic reticulum and outer mitochondrial membranes. A direct interaction between CED-4 and CED-9 was confirmed by yeast two-hybrid analysis.


Using S. pombe as a model system in which to assay CED-4 function, we have identified a potential direct role for CED-4 in chromatin condensation. Chromatin condensation is a ubiquitous feature of metazoan apoptosis that has yet to be linked to an effector. The CED-9-mediated rescue of CED-4-induced lethality in this system and the interaction of the two proteins in the yeast two-hybrid analysis suggest that CED-9 inhibits CED-4 action by direct physical association.

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