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Eur J Biochem. 1998 Jan 15;251(1-2):295-303.

Role of an acidic compartment in tumor-necrosis-factor-alpha-induced production of ceramide, activation of caspase-3 and apoptosis.

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Institute of Biochemistry, University of Fribourg, Switzerland.


Tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) apoptosis by recruiting a complex of cytosolic proteins at its plasma membrane receptor. Among them is caspase-8, an interleukin-1beta-converting enzyme (ICE)-like protease that initiates an amplified protease cascade to activate the cell-death machinery. The latter comprises at least caspase-3 and caspase-7, which execute cell death by cleaving numerous protein substrates, including poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase. In addition, TNF-alpha stimulates the production of ceramide, which also activates the death machinery. Whether the signaling pathways elicited by caspase-8 and ceramide proceed independently or intersect at a specific subcellular site is unknown. Using the lysosomotropic agent NH4Cl and the vesicularization inhibitor brefeldin A, we show here the convergence of TNF-alpha-induced death signaling on an acidic, subcellular compartment reminiscent of lysosomes. This compartment generates at least two signaling pathways that account for the caspase-3 activation and apoptosis induced by TNF-alpha, one involving ceramide and caspase-unrelated adapter molecules and another involving yet unknown lysosomal mediators. The apoptosis inhibitor Bcl-2 specifically acts on the ceramide-activated pathway to block caspase-3 activation and apoptosis. The latter result explains why Bcl-2 only partially blocks TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis.

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