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J Neurosci. 1997 Aug 15;17(16):6165-78.

Establishment of a cell-free system of neuronal apoptosis: comparison of premitochondrial, mitochondrial, and postmitochondrial phases.

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The Burnham Institute, La Jolla Cancer Research Center, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Apoptosis is a fundamental process required for normal development of the nervous system and is triggered during neurodegenerative disease. To dissect the molecular events leading to neuronal cell death, we have developed a cell-free model of neuronal apoptosis. The model faithfully reproduces key elements of apoptosis, including chromatin condensation, DNA fragmentation, caspase activation/processing, and selective substrate cleavage. We report that cell-free apoptosis is activated in premitochondrial, mitochondrial, and postmitochondrial phases by tamoxifen, mastoparan, and cytochrome c, respectively, allowing a functional ordering of these proapoptotic modulators. Furthermore, this is the first report of mitochondrial-mediated activation of cell-free apoptosis in a cell extract. Although Bcl-2 blocks activation at the premitochondrial and mitochondrial levels, it does not affect the postmitochondrial level. The cell-free system described here provides a valuable tool to elucidate the molecular events leading to neuronal cell death.

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